E. Zeller (essay date 1868)

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SOURCE: "Sources and Characteristics of the Philosophy of Socrates," in Socrates and The Socratic Schools, translated by E. Zeller and Oswald J. Reichel, Longmans, Green and Co., 1868, pp. 82-149.

[In the following essay, Zeller discusses the questions surrounding the validity of Xenophon and Plato as Socratic sources and identifies Socrates's quest for "true knowledge" as the heart of the philosopher's intellectual and moral theories.]

There is considerable difficulty in arriving at an accurate view of the philosophy of Socrates, owing to the discrepancies in the accounts of the original authorities. Socrates himself committed nothing to writing,1 and there are only the works of two of his pupils, Xenophon and Plato, preserved, in which he is made to speak in his own person.2 But the accounts of these two writers are so little alike, that we gather from the one quite a different view of the teaching of Socrates to what the other gives us. It was the fashion among early historians of philosophy to construct a picture of the Athenian philosopher, without any principles of criticism to guide them, from the writings of Xenophon and Plato indiscriminately, as well as from later, and for the most part untrustworthy authorities. Since the time of Brucker, however, it became the custom to look to Xenophon as the only authority to be perfectly trusted on the philosophy of Socrates, and to allow to others, Plato included, at most only a supplementary value. Quite recently, however, Schleiermacher has lodged a protest against the preference shown for Xenophon.3 Xenophon, he argues, not being a philosopher himself, was scarcely capable of understanding a philosopher like Socrates; the object, moreover, of the Memorabilia was only a limited one, to defend his teacher from definite charges; we are therefore justified in assuming a priori that there must have been more in Socrates than Xenophon allows, or else he could not have played so important a part in the history of philosophy, nor have exerted so marvellous a power of attraction on the most intellectual and cultivated men of his time. The character too which is given him by Plato, would have otherwise been a manifest contradiction of the picture presented by him to the mind of his reader. Besides, Xenophon's dialogues create the impression, that philosophic matter has been put into the unphilosophic language of every-day life, with detriment to its full and proper meaning; and there are gaps left in his account which we must look to Plato to fill up. We can hardly, however, adopt the view of Meiners,4 that only those parts of the dialogues of Plato may be considered historical, which are either to be found in Xenophon, or immediately follow from what Xenophon says, or which are opposed to Plato's own views. This hypothesis would only give us the Socrates of Xenophon slightly modified, whilst the deeper spring of Socratic thought would still be wanting. The only safe course is adopted by Schleiermacher, who asks: What may Socrates have been, in addition to what Xenophon says he was, without denying the character and maxims which Xenophon distinctly assigns to him? and what must he have been to call for and to justify such a description as is given of him in the dialogues of Plato? Several other writers have since acquiesced in Schleiermacher's estimate of Xenophon,5 and even before Schleiermacher, Dissen6 had expressed his inability to see in the pages of Xenophon anything but a description of the outward appearance of Socrates. The same approval has been bestowed on Schleiermacher's canon for finding out...

(This entire section contains 4432 words.)

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the real Socrates, and only when it failed has an addition been made,7 that the expressions of Aristotle may be used as a touchstone to discover the teaching of Socrates. On the other hand Xenophon's authority has been warmly supported by several critics.8

In deciding between these two views a difficulty, however, presents itself. The authority of the one or the other of our accounts can only be ascertained by a comparison with the true historical picture, and the true historical picture can only be known from these conflicting accounts. This difficulty would be insurmountable, if the two narratives had the same claim to be considered historical in points which they state varyingly; nor would Aristotle's scanty notices of the Socratic philosophy have been sufficient to settle the question. Fortunately one thing is clear, that Plato only claims to be true to facts in those points on which he agrees with Xenophon, as for instance, in the Apology and the Symposium. On other points no one could well assert that he wished all to be taken as historical which he puts into the mouth of Socrates. Of Xenophon, on the contrary, it may be asserted, that in the Memorabilia he intended to unfold a lifelike picture of the views and the conduct of his teacher, although he did not feel himself bound to reproduce his discourses verbatim, and may have thus expanded in his own way many a conversation, of which he only knew the general substance. The objections to his account are only based on an indirect argument, that the historical importance of Socrates can hardly be explained from the picture he gives, and that if it were true, it is impossible to conceive how Socrates could have said what Plato makes him say, without violating the strongest probabilities. And supposing this objection to be established, it would be necessary in order to gain an idea of his philosophy, to look to the very questionable picture of Plato, and to the few expressions of Aristotle. But before these can be received, an examination of them must be made in a more careful manner than the opponents of Xenophon have generally cared to do. The enquiry is closely bound up with an exposition of the teaching of Socrates, and can only be distinguished from it in theory. It will not, therefore, be separated from it here. Socrates must be drawn after the three accounts of Xenophon, Plato, and Aristotle. If the attempt to form a harmonious picture from them all succeeds, Xenophon will be justified. Should it not succeed, it will then be necessary to ask, which of the traditional accounts is the true one.

We will begin with enquiring into the general point of view and the fundamental conception of Socrates. But, on the very threshold of the enquiry, different lines seem to be taken by our main authorities. According to Plato, Socrates appears as a perfect thinker—at home in all branches of knowledge; whereas, in Xenophon he is represented far less as a philosopher than as an innocent and excellent man, full of piety and common sense. It is from Xenophon's account that the ordinary view of Socrates has arisen, that he was only a popular teacher holding aloof from speculative questions, and that he was far less a philosopher than a teacher of morality and instructor of youth.9 It cannot, indeed, be denied, nor have we attempted to do so, that he was full of the most lively enthusiasm for morality, and made it the business of his life to exercise a moral influence upon others. But if he had only discharged this duty in the superficial way of a popular teacher, and had only imparted and inculcated the ordinary notions of duty and virtue, it would be a mystery how he could have exerted the influence he did, not only on weak-minded and thoughtless young men, but on the most talented and cultivated of his cotemporaries. It would be inexplicable what induced Plato to connect the deepest philosophical enquiries with his person, or what induced all later philosophers, from Aristotle down to the Stoics and Neoplatonists to regard him as having inaugurated a new epoch in philosophy, and to trace their own peculiar systems to the stimulus imparted by him.

There is also more than one feature in the personal habits of Socrates to refute the idea that he thought knowledge only of value in as far as it was instrumental for action. So far is this view even from being the true one, that we shall find that he considered actions to have a value only when they proceeded from correct knowledge, the conception of knowledge being the higher one to which he referred that of moral action or virtue, and perfection of knowledge being the measure for perfection of action. Again, the ordinary view represents him as aiming in his intercourse with others at moral training alone; but it would appear10 from his own words, that love of knowledge was the original motive for his activity; and accordingly we observe him in his dialogues pursuing enquiries, which not only have no moral end,11 but which, in their practical application, could only serve immoral purposes.12 These traits are not met with exclusively in one or other of our authorities, but they appear equally through the accounts given by the three main sources. This fact would be wholly inexplicable if Socrates had been only the moralist for which he was formerly taken. The key which explains it will be found in the assumption that, in all his investigations, even when he appears specially as a moral teacher, a deeper philosophic interest was concealed below.

Our authorities do not leave us any room to doubt in what his purpose consisted. He sought for true knowledge in the service of the Delphic God. He busied himself unweariedly with his friends to gain a knowledge of the essence of things. He referred all the claims of morality to the claims of knowledge. In a word, the idea of knowledge forms the centre of the Socratic philosophy.13 Now, as all philosophy aims at knowledge, a further determination must be added to this definition:—that the pursuit of true knowledge, which had been hitherto an immediate and instinctive activity, became with Socrates a conscious and methodical pursuit. He became conscious of the idea of knowledge as knowledge, and when once conscious of it, he raised it to be his leading idea.14 This, again, requires further explanation. If the love of knowledge was in existence before, it may be asked why did it not develope into a conscious and critical pursuit? The answer can only be found in the fact, that the knowledge which earlier philosophers pursued, was, in itself, different from the knowledge which Socrates required, and therefore they were not led on as Socrates was by this idea of knowledge to direct their attention to the intellectual processes and conditions, by which it was truly to be acquired. Such a necessity was, however, imposed on Socrates by the theory which he held, according to the most trustworthy accounts, as the soul of all his teaching—that all true knowledge must be based on correct conceptions, and that nothing can be known, unless it can be referred to a general conception, and judged of by that.15 With this fundamental theory, however simple it may appear, an entire change in the intellectual process was demanded. The ordinary view regards things as being what they appear to be to the senses; or if contradictory experiences forbid this, it clings to those appearances which make the strongest impression on the observer, declares these to constitute the essence, and thence draws further conclusions. This was exactly what philosophers had hitherto done. Even those who decried the senses as not to be depended upon had started from one-sided observations, without being conscious of the necessity of grounding every judgment on an exhaustive enquiry into the object. This dogmatism had been overthrown by the Sophists, and it was recognised that all impressions derived from the senses were relative and personal, that they do not represent things as they are, but as they appear; and, that, consequently, whatever assertion we may take, its opposite may be advanced with equal justice. For, if for one person at this moment this is true, for another person at another moment that is true.

Socrates expresses the same sentiment relative to the value of common opinions. He is aware that they cannot furnish us with knowledge, but only involve us in contradictions. But he does not draw the inference, which the Sophists did, that real knowledge is impossible, but only that it is impossible in that way. The majority of mankind have no true knowledge, because they confine themselves to suppositions, the accuracy of which they have never examined, and they only take into consideration one property or another, but not the essence. Amend this fault; consider every object in all its bearings, and endeavour from such many-sided observation to determine its essence; we shall then have conceptions instead of vague notions—a regular examination, instead of an unmethodical procedure without reflection—a true, instead of a supposed knowledge. By requiring knowledge to be made of conceptions, Socrates not only broke away from the current view, but, generally speaking, from all previous philosophy. A thorough observation from every side, a critical examination, a methodical enquiry conscious of its own basis, was demanded; all that had hitherto been regarded as knowledge was rejected, because it fell short of these conditions; and at the same time the conviction was expressed that, by observing these rules, real knowledge could be secured.

This theory had not only an intellectual, but more immediately a moral value for Socrates. It is in fact one of the most striking traits in his character that he was unable to divide the intellectual from the moral, and neither admitted knowledge without virtue, nor virtue without knowledge. In this respect he is the man of his age, and herein consists his greatness, that he made its needs and lawful desires felt with great penetration and keenness. When advancing civilisation had created the demand for a higher education amongst the Greeks, and the course of their intellectual development had diverted their attention from nature, and fixed it on mind, a closer connection became necessary between philosophy and life. Philosophy could only find its highest object in man, and man could only find in philosophy the help and support which he needed for life. The Sophists endeavoured to meet this want with great skill and vigour, and hence their extraordinary success. But the sophistic philosophy of life suffered too much from the want of a tenable ground. It had by universal doubting loosened its intellectual roots too effectually to save itself from degenerating with terrific speed, and serving to foster every wicked and selfish impulse. Instead of the moral life being raised by the influence of the Sophists, both life and philosophy were taking the same downward course.

The sad tendencies of the age were fully understood by Socrates, and while his contemporaries, struck blind with admiration, were either insensible to the dangers of the sophistic education, or else through fear and singular indifference to the wants of the times and the march of history, confined themselves, as did Aristophanes, to denouncing the innovators, he was able with penetrating look to discern, what was right and what was wrong in the spirit of his time. The unsatisfactory nature of the older culture, the untenableness of the ordinary virtue, the obscurity of the prevailing notions so full of contradictions, the necessity for intellectual education, were all recognised by him as much as by any other of the Sophists. But he held out other and higher ends to education. He sought not to destroy the belief in truth, but rather to show how truth might be acquired, by a new intellectual process. His aim was not to minister to the selfishness of the age, but rather to rescue the age from selfishness and apathy, by teaching it what was truly good and useful: not to undermine morality and piety, but to rear them up on a new foundation of knowledge. Thus Socrates was at once a moral and an intellectual reformer. His one great thought was to transform and restore moral conduct by means of knowledge, and these two elements were so intimately united by him, that he could find no other subject of knowledge but human conduct, and could discover no security for conduct but knowledge. The service which he rendered to both morality and science by his labours, and the standard which he set up for the intellectual condition of his people and of mankind generally, were felt in after times. If in the sequel, the distinction between moral and intellectual activity in addition to their unity, was fully brought out, yet the knot by which he connected them, has never been untied; and if in the last centuries of the old world, philosophy took the place of the waning religion, and gave a new ground to morality, purifying and exalting the inner moral life, this great and beneficial result was due to Socrates in as far as it can be assigned to any one individual.

The interest of philosophy was now turned away from the outer world, and directed to man and his moral nature. But, inasmuch as man can only regard a thing as true and connected when he has been convinced of its truth by personal research, great attention was bestowed by Socrates on the culture of his own personality. In this some modern writers have thought that they discerned the peculiar character of his philosophy.16 But the life and personality of Socrates is a very different thing from the caprice of the Sophists, nor must it be confounded with the extreme individualism of the post-Aristotelian schools. Socrates was aware, that each individual must seek the grounds of his own conviction, that truth is not something given from without, but must be found by the exercise of a man's own thought. He required all assumptions to be examined anew, no matter how old or how current they were, and that dependence should only be placed on proof and not on authority. But he was far from making man, as Protagoras did, the measure of all things. He did not even as the Stoics and Epicureans did, declare personal conviction and practical need to be the ultimate standard of truth, nor yet as the Sceptics, resolve all truth into probability; but as knowledge was to him an end in itself, he was convinced that true knowledge could be obtained by a thoughtful consideration of things. Moreover he saw in man the proper object of philosophy, but instead of making personal caprice the law, as the Sophists did, he subordinated it to the general law residing in nature and in abstract moral relations.17 Instead too of making, with later philosophers, the self-contentment of the wise man his highest end, he confined himself to the old Greek morality, which could not conceive of the individual independent of the state,18 and which accordingly made the first duty of a citizen to consist in living for the state,19 and regarded the law of the state as his natural rule of conduct.20 Hence the political indifference or the universal patriotism of the Stoa and its contemporary rivals were entirely alien to Socrates. If it can be truly said 'that in him commences an unbounded reference to the person, to the freedom of the inner life,'21 it must also be added that this statement by no means exhausts the theory of Socrates; and thus the disputes about the purely personal, or the really general character of the Socratic doctrine,22 will have to be decided in such a way, that it is allowed that his theory exhibits an inward personal bent, in comparison with former systems, but is not by any means purely relative. Its object is to gain a knowledge which does more than serve a personal want, and which is true and desirable for more than the person who seeks it, but the ground on which it is sought is only the personal thought23 of the individual.

It is true that this theory is not further expanded by Socrates. He has established the principle, that only the knowledge which has to do with conceptions is true knowledge; that true being only belongs to conceptions, and that therefore conceptions are alone true; but he never reached to a systematic exposition of what conceptions are true in themselves. Knowledge is here laid down as a postulate, and set as a problem for individuals to solve. Philosophy is rather philosophic impulse, and philosophic method, a seeking for truth, but not yet a possessing it; and this incompleteness has countenanced the view that the theory of Socrates was a theory of a personal and one-sided knowledge. It should, however, never be forgotten, that the aim of Socrates was always to find out and describe what was really true and good. Mankind is to be intellectually and morally framed, but the one only means for the purpose is the acquisition of knowledge.

As the great aim of Socrates was to train men to think, rather than to construct a system for them, it seemed to be his main business to determine the way which would lead them to truth, or in other words to find out the true method of philosophy. The substance of his teaching appears to have been confined on the one hand to questions having an immediate bearing on human conduct; and it does not, on the other hand, go beyond the general and theoretical demand, that all action should be determined by a knowledge of conceptions. There is no systematic tracing of the development of morality in the individual; no attempt to ground it upon other than external reasons.


1 The unimportant poetical attempts of his last days (Plato, Phado, 60, C.) could hardly be taken into account, even if they were extant. They appear, however, to have been very soon lost. See Diog. ii. 42. The genuineness of the Socratic letters need not occupy us for a moment, and that Socrates committed nothing to writing is clear from the silence of Xenophon, Plato, and all antiquity on the point, not to mention the positive testimony of Cie, de Orat. iii. 16, 60; Diog. i. 16; Plut. De Alex. Virt. i. 4.

2 For instance, those of Eschines, Antisthenes, Phado.

3 On the philosophical merits of Socrates, Schleiermacher, Works, iii. 2, 293.

4 Geschichte der Wissenschaften in Griechenland und Rom, ii. 420.

5 Brandis, Ritter, Van Heusde.

6 De philosophia morali.

7 By Brandis.

8 Hegel, Gesch. d. Phil. ii. 69; Rotscher, Herrman, &c.

9 How common this view was in past times, needs not to be proved by authorities which abound from Cicero down to Wiggers and Reinhold. That it is not yet altogether exploded may be gathered not only from writers like Van Heusde, but even Marbach, a disciple of the Hegelian philosophy, asserts that Socrates 'regarded the speculative philosophy which aimed at general knowledge, as useless, vain, and foolish,' and that he 'took the field not only against the Sophists as pretenders to knowledge, but against all philosophy;' in short that 'he was no philosopher.'

10 Plato, Apol. 21, where Socrates deduces his whole activity from the fact that he pursued a real knowledge.

11 Examples are to be found in the conversation (Mem. iii. 10), in which Socrates conducts the painter Parrhasius, the sculptor Clito, and Pistias, the forger of armour, to the conceptions of their respective arts. It is true Xenophon introduces this conversation with the remark that Socrates knew how to make himself useful to artisans. But the desire to make himself useful can only have been a very subordinate one; he was no doubt really actuated by the motive mentioned in the Apology, a praiseworthy curiosity to learn from intercourse with all classes, whether they were clearly conscious of what their arts were for. Xenophon himself attests this, Mem. IV. 6, 1.… This pursuit of the conceptions of things, aiming not at the application of knowledge, but at knowledge itself, is quite enough to prove that Socrates was not only a preacher of virtue, but a philosopher. Even Xenophon found some difficulty in subordinating it to his practical view of things, as his words show: from which it may be seen that Socrates made his friends more critical. But criticism is the organ of knowledge.

12 Mem. iii. 11 contains a paragraph adapted more than any other to refute the idea that Socrates was only a popular teacher. Socrates hears one of his companions commending the beauty of Theodota, and at once goes with his company to see her. He finds her acting as a painter's model, and he thereupon enters into a conversation with her, in which he endeavours to lead her to a conception of her trade, and shows her how she will best be able to win lovers. Now although such a step would not give that offence to the Greeks which it would to us, still there is not the least trace of a moral purpose in it.

13 Schleiermacher, Works, iii. 2, 300: 'The awakening of the idea of knowledge, and its first utterances, must have been the substance of the philosophy of Socrates.' Ritter agrees with this, Gesch. d. Philosophie, ii. 50. Brandis only differs in unessential points. To him the origin of the doctrine of Socrates appears to be his desire to establish against the Sophists the absolute worth of moral determinations, and then he adds: to secure this purpose the first aim of Socrates was to gain a deeper insight into his inner life, in order to be able to distinguish false and true knowledge with certainty. Similarly Braniss.

14 Schleiermacher. Brandis.

15 Xenoph. Mem. iv. 6, 1.… As is explained by the context, he referred all doubtful points to the universal conceptions, in order to decide by them; iv. 5, 12.… Comp. i. 1-16, and the many instances in the Memorabilia. Aristotle (Met. xiii. 4, 1078, b, 17, 27).…

16 Hegel, Gesch. d. Phil. ii. 40; Rotscher, Aristoph., p. 245.

17 Proofs may be found Xen. Mem. ii. 2; ii. 6, 1-7; iii. 8, 1-3; iv, 4, 20.

18 Compare the conversation with Aristippus, Xen. Mem. ii. 1, 13; and Plato's Crito, 53, A.

19 See Xen. Mem. i. 6, 15; Plato, Apol. 30, A.

20 Mem. iv. 4, 12, and 3, 15.

21 Hegel.

22 Compare the views of Rotscher and Brandis.

23 Hegel says nothing very different, when in distinguishing (Gesch. d. Phil. ii. 40) Socrates from the Sophists he says: 'in Socrates the creation of thought is at once clad with an independent existence of its own,' and what is purely personal is 'externalised and made universal by him as the good.' Socrates is said to have substituted 'thinking man is the measure of all things,' in place of the Sophistic doctrine 'man is the measure of all things.' In a word, his leading thought is not the individual as he knows himself experimentally, but the universal element which is found running through all individuals.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (essay date 1882?)

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SOURCE: "The Character of Socrates," in Two Unpublished Essays, Lamson, Wolffe & Co., 1895, pp. 1-39.

[In the following excerpt, Emerson discusses the "uncommon and admirable" character of Socrates and acknowledges the debt owed by "modern improvement"to the wisdom of Socrates. Emerson explores the moral background of Socrates's age and discusses Socrates's moral philosophy, noting that the philosopher sought to reform the "abuses of morals and virtue which had become a national calamity." Because the date of composition of this essay is not known, Ernerson's death date has been used to date the essay.]

          Guide my way
Through fair Lyceum's walk, the green
Of Academus, and the thymy vale
Where, oft enchanted with Socratic sounds,
Ilissus pure devolved his tuneful stream
In gentler murmurs. From the blooming store
Of these auspicious fields, may I unblamed
Transplant some living blossoms to adorn
My native clime.

The philosophy of the human mind has of late years commanded an unusual degree of attention from the curious and the learned. The increasing notice which it obtains is owing much to the genius of those men who have raised themselves with the science to general regard, but chiefly, as its patrons contend, to the uncontrolled progress of human improvement. The zeal of its advocates, however, in other respects commendable, has sinned in one particular,—they have laid a little too much self-complacent stress on the merit and success of their own unselfish exertions, and in their first contempt of the absurd and trifling speculations of former metaphysicians, appear to have confounded sophists and true philosophers, and to have been disdainful of some who have enlightened the world and marked out a path for future advancement.

Indeed, the giant strength of modern improvement is more indebted to the early wisdom of Thales and Socrates and Plato than is generally allowed, or perhaps than modern philosophers have been well aware.

This supposition is strongly confirmed by a consideration of the character of Socrates, which, in every view, is uncommon and admirable. To one who should read his life as recorded by Xenophon and Plato without previous knowledge of the man, the extraordinary character and circumstances of his biography would appear incredible. It would seem that antiquity had endeavored to fable forth a being clothed with all the perfection which the purest and brightest imagination could conceive or combine, bestowing upon the piece only so much of mortality as to make it tangible and imitable. Even in this imaginary view of the character, we have been inclined to wonder that men, without a revelation, by the light of reason only, should set forth a model of moral perfection which the wise of any age would do well to imitate. And, further, it might offer a subject of ingenious speculation, to mark the points of difference, should modern fancy, with all its superiority of philosophic and theological knowledge, endeavor to create a similar paragon. But this is foreign to our purpose.

It will be well, in reviewing the character of Socrates, to mark the age in which he lived, as the moral and political circumstances of the times would probably exert an important and immediate influence on his opinions and character. The dark ages of Greece, from the settlement of the colonies to the Trojan War, had long closed. The young republics had been growing in strength, population, and territory, digesting their constitutions and building up their name and importance. The Persian War, that hard but memorable controversy of rage and spite, conflicting with energetic and disciplined independence, had shed over their land an effulgence of glory which richly deserved all that applause which after ages have bestowed. It was a stern trial of human effort, and the Greeks might be pardoned if, in their intercourse with less glorious nations, they carried the record of their long triumph too far to conciliate national jealousies. The aggrandizement of Greece which followed this memorable war was the zenith of its powers and splendor, and ushered in the decay and fall of the political fabric.

The age of Pericles has caused Athens to be remembered in history. At no time during her existence were the arts so flourishing, popular taste and feeling so exalted and refined, or her political relations so extensive and respected. The Athenian people were happy at home, reverenced abroad,—and at the head of the Grecian confederacy. Their commerce was lucrative, and their wars few and honorable. In this mild period it was to be expected that literature and science would grow up vigorously under the fostering patronage of taste and power. The Olympian games awakened the emulation of genius and produced the dramatic efforts of Æschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, and philosophy came down from heaven to Anaxagoras, Archelaus, and Socrates.

Such was the external and obvious condition of Athens,—apparently prosperous, but a concealed evil began to display specific and disastrous consequences. The sophists had acquired the brightest popularity and influence, by the exhibition of those superficial accomplishments whose novelty captivated the minds of an ingenious people, among whom true learning was yet in its infancy. Learning was not yet loved for its own sake. It was prized as a saleable commodity. The sophists bargained their literature, such as it was, for a price; and this price, ever exorbitant, was yet regulated by the ability of the scholar.

That this singular order of men should possess so strong an influence over the Athenian public argues no strange or unnatural state of society, as has been sometimes represented; it is the proper and natural result of improvement in a money-making community. By the prosperity of their trading interests all the common wants of society were satisfied, and it was natural that the mind should next urge its claim to cultivation, and the surplus of property be expended for the gratification of the intellect. This has been found true in the growth of all nations,—that after successful trade, literature soon throve well,—provided the human mind was cramped by no disadvantages of climate or "skyey influences."

The Athenian sophists adapted their course of pursuits of knowledge, with admirable skill, to the taste of the people. They first approved themselves masters of athletic exercises, for the want of which no superiority of intellect, however consummate, would compensate in the Grecian republics. They then applied themselves to the cultivation of forensic eloquence, which enabled them to discourse volubly, if ignorantly, on any subject and on any occasion, however unexpected. To become perfect in this grand art, it was necessary to acquire, by habit and diligence, an imperturbable self-possession which could confront, unabashed, the rudest accident; and moreover, a flood of respondent and exclamatory phrases, skilfully constructed to meet the emergencies of a difficult conversation. After this laudable education had thus far accomplished its aim, the young sophist became partially conversant with the limited learning of the age in all its subjects. The poets, the historians, the sages, the writers on the useful arts, each and all occupied by turns his glancing observation. And when the motley composition of his mind was full, it only remained to stamp upon his character some few peculiarities,—to make him what the moderns have called a "mannerist,"—and his professional education was considered complete.

When the sophists made themselves known, they assumed a sanctity of manners, which awed familiarity and very conveniently cloaked their sinister designs. Pythagoras, after his persevering exertions for the attainment of knowledge, after his varied and laborious travels, had established a romantic school at Crotona with institutions resembling free masonry, which had planted in Greece prepossessions favorable to philosophy.

The sophists availed themselves of their prejudices, and amused the crowds who gathered at the rumor of novelty, with riddles and definitions, with gorgeous theories of existence,—splendid fables and presumptuous professions. They laid claim to all knowledge, and craftily continued to steal the respect of a credulous populace, and to enrich themselves by pretending to instruct the children of the opulent. When they had thus fatally secured their own emolument, they rapidly threw off the assumed rigidity of their morals, and, under covert of a sort of perfumed morality, indulged themselves and their followers in abominable excesses, degrading the mind and debauching virtue. Unhappily for Greece, the contaminating vices of Asiatic luxury, the sumptuous heritage of Persian War, had but too naturally seconded the growing depravity.

The youth of great men is seldom marked by any peculiarities which arrest observation. Their minds have secret workings; and, though they feel and enjoy the consciousness of genius, they seldom betray prognostics of greatness. Many who were cradled by misfortune and want have reproached the sun as he rose and went down, for amidst the baseness of circumstances their large minds were unsatisfied, unfed; many have bowed lowly to those whose names their own were destined to outlive; many have gone down to their graves in obscurity, for fortune withheld them from eminence, and to beg they were ashamed.

Of the son of the sculptor and midwife we only know that he became eminent as a sculptor, but displaying genius for higher pursuits, Crito, who afterward became his disciple, procured for him admission to the schools and to such education as the times furnished. But the rudiments of his character and his homely virtues were formed in the workshop, secluded from temptation; and those inward operations of his strong mind were begun which were afterwards mature in the ripeness of life.

We shall proceed to examine the character of the philosopher, after premising that we do not intend to give the detail of his life, but shall occasionally adduce facts of biography as illustrative of the opinions we have formed. With regard to the method pursued in the arrangement of our remarks, we must observe that sketches of the character of an individual can admit of little definiteness of plan, but we shall direct our attention to a consideration of the leading features of his mind, and to a few of his moral excellences which went to make up the great aggregate of his character.

The chief advantage which he owed to nature, the source of his philosophy and the foundation of his character, was a large share of plain good sense,—a shrewdness which would not suffer itself to be duped, and withal, concealed under a semblance of the frankest simplicity, which beguiled the objects of his pursuit into conversation and confidence which met his wishes. This was the faculty which enabled him to investigate his own character, to learn the natural tendency and bias of his own genius, and thus to perfectly control his mental energies.

There is a story of Socrates, related by Cicero, which militates somewhat with the opinion we have formed of his mind,—that when a physiognomist, after having examined his features, had pronounced him a man of bad passions and depraved character, Socrates reproved the indignation of his disciples by acknowledging the truth of the assertion so far as nature was concerned, saying that it had been the object of his life to eradicate these violent passions. This might have been merely a trick of art, and as such is consistent with his character. We cannot view it in any other light; for although it is very probable that natural malignity might have darkened his early life, yet no assertion of his own would convince us, in contradiction with his whole life and instruction, that he was ever subject to the fiercer passions. Such, too, was the order of his intellect. He was a man of strong and vivid conceptions, but utterly destitute of fancy. Still, he possessed originality and sometimes sublimity of thought. His powerful mind had surmounted the unavoidable errors of education, and had retained those acquirements which are found applicable to the uses of common life, whilst he had discarded whatever was absurd or unprofitable.

He studied the nature and explored the destinies of men with a chastised enthusiasm. Notwithstanding the sober, dispassionate turn of mind which we have mentioned, he is not unmoved at all times; when he enters into the discussion upon the immortality of the soul and the nature and attributes of Deity, he forgets his quibbles upon terms, and his celebrated irony, and sensibly warms and expands with his theme. This was aided by the constant activity of his mind, which endowed him with energy of thought and language, and its discipline never suffered him to obtrude an unguarded emotion.

In perfect accordance with this view of his mind is his conduct under circumstances related by Plato. In prison, whilst under condemnation, he was directed in vision to seek the favor of the Muses. This new discipline enjoined upon him was utterly incongruous with the temper and habits of feeling usual to the philosopher. His plain sense and logical mind, which would reduce everything, however impressive, to mathematical measurement, were little conversant, we may suppose, with poetical visions. In fact, we could not suppose a character more diametrically opposite to the soul of the poet, in all the gradations of cultivated mind, than the soul of Socrates.

The food and occupation of the former has to do with golden dreams,—airy nothings, bright personifications of glory and joy and evil,—and we imagine him sitting apart, like Brahma, moulding magnificent forms, clothing them with beauty and grandeur. The latter dwells on earth, dealing plainly and bluntly with men and men's actions, instructing them what to do and to forbear; and even when he desires to lift his tone, it is only to mingle with higher reality, but never forsaking safe, but tedious, paths of certainty.

All this we know, and the manner which Socrates selected to perform the task assigned him creates neither disappointment nor surprise; for perhaps in the biographical annals of his country there was no intellect whose leading feature more nearly resembled his own than Æsop, whose fables he undertook to versify.

It may well be supposed that a mind thus cast was eminently calculated to instruct, and his didactic disposition always rendered him rather the teacher than the companion of his friends. Add to all this an unrivalled keenness of penetration into the character of others, and hence arose his ruling motive in all his intercourse with men; it was not to impart literary knowledge or information in science or art, but to lay open to his own view the human mind, and all its unacknowledged propensities, its weak and fortified positions, and the springs of human action. All this was achieved by the power of his art, and it enabled him easily to grasp the mind, and mould it at will, and to unite and direct the wandering energies of the human soul.

His mind was cultivated, though his learning was little. He was acquainted with the works of the most eminent poets of his country, but as he seems never to have made literature his study, the limited erudition he possessed was probably gleaned from the declamations of the sophists, whose pride never scrupled to borrow abundantly from the superfluous light which departed genius afforded. His own acquisitions had been made in the workshops of the Athenian artisans, in the society of Aspasia and Theombrota, and by intelligent, experienced observation.

Though living in Athens, he acquired little taste for the elegance or pride of life; surrounded as he was by the living marbles which all succeeding ages have consented to admire, and then just breathing from the hand of the artist, he appeared utterly dead to their beauties, and used them only as casual illustrations of an argument. In the gratification of his desire to learn and know mankind, he visited the poor and the rich, the virtuous and the degraded, and set himself to explore all the varieties of circumstances occurring in a great city, that he might discover what were "the elements which furnish forth creation."

We may judge from the acquaintances of the philosopher what were the minds most congenial to his own. Of his great contemporaries,—Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes,—Euripides alone was his pupil and friend. He never attended the theatre only as his tragedies were to be performed. This warmth of feeling for the chaste and tender dramatist should defend his mind from the imputation of utter deafness to taste and beauty. The majestic and sublime genius of Sophocles was not so intimately allied to the every-day morals of Socrates; Euripides knew and taught more human nature in its common aspects.…

We have attempted to draw the outline of one of the most remarkable minds which human history has recorded, and which was rendered extraordinary by its wonderful adaptation to the times in which he lived. We must now hasten to our great task of developing the moral superiority of the philosopher.

A manly philosophy has named fortitude, temperance, and prudence its prime virtues. All belonged, in a high degree of perfection, to the son of Sophroniscus, but fortitude more particularly. Perhaps it was not a natural virtue, but the first-fruits of his philosophy. A mind whose constitution was built up like his—the will of the philosopher moulding the roughest materials into form and order—might create its own virtues, and set them in array to compose the aggregate of character. He was not like other men, the sport of circumstances, but by the persevering habits of forbearance and self-denial he had acquired that control over his whole being which enabled him to hold the same even, unchangeable temperament in all the extremes of his fortunes. This exemption from the influences of circumstances in the moral world is almost like exemption from the law of gravitation in the natural economy. The exemplifications of this fortitude are familiar. When all the judges of the senate, betraying an unworthy pusillanimity, gave way to an iniquitous demand of the populace, Socrates alone disdained to sacrifice justice to the fear of the people.

On another occasion, in the forefront of a broken battle, Alcibiades owed his life to the firmness of his master. Patriotic steadfastness in resistance to the oppression of the Thirty Tyrants is recorded to his honor. Although we are unwilling to multiply these familiar instances, we would not be supposed to undervalue that milder fortitude which Diogenes Laertius has lauded, and which clouded his domestic joys. The victory over human habits and passions which shall bring them into such subjection as to be subservient to the real advantage of the possessor is that necessary virtue which philosophers denominate temperance. We are led to speak of this particularly because its existence in the character of Socrates has been questioned.

The impurity of public morals and the prevalence of a debasing vice has left a festering reproach on the name of Athens, which deepens as the manners of civilized nations have altered and improved. Certain equivocal expressions and paragraphs in the Dialogues of Plato have formerly led many to fasten the stigma on Socrates. This abomination has likewise been laid to the charge of Virgil, and probably with as little justice. Socrates taught that every soul was an eternal, immutable form of beauty in the divine mind, and that the most beautiful mortals approached nearest to that celestial mould; that it was the honor and delight of human intellect to contemplate this beau ideal, and that this was better done through the medium of earthly perfection. For this reason this sober enthusiast associated with such companions as Alcibiades, Critias, and other beautiful Athenians.

A late article in the Quarterly Review, the better to vindicate the character of Aristophanes from the reproach attached to him as the author of "The Clouds," has taken some pains to attack the unfortunate butt of the comedian's buffoonery. It is unpleasant at this day to find facts misrepresented in order to conform to a system, and unwarranted insinuations wantonly thrown out to vilify the most pure philosopher of antiquity, for no other purpose than to add the interest of novelty to a transient publication. It is a strong, and one would think an unanswerable, argument against the allegation, that his unsparing calumniator, the bitter Aristophanes, should have utterly omitted this grand reproach, while he wearies his sarcasm on more insignificant follies. Nor did he pass it by because it was not accounted a crime, as if the fashion of the age justifies the enormity; for in this identical play he introduces his Just Orator, declaiming against this vice in particular and remembering with regret the better manners of better times, when lascivious gestures were unstudied and avoided and the cultivated strength of manhood was devoted to austere, laborious virtue. The whole character and public instructions of Socrates ought to have shielded him from this imputation, while they manifest its utter improbability. When the malignity of an early historian had given birth to the suspicion, the fathers, who often bore no good-will to Socrates (whose acquired greatness eclipsed their natural parts), often employed their pens to confirm and diffuse it, and it owes its old currency chiefly to their exertions.

We shall not speak particularly of the prudence of Socrates. He possessed it abundantly, in the philosophical signification of the term,—but none of that timorous caution which might interfere with the impulses of patriotism, duty, or courage.

It seems to have been a grand aim of his life to become a patriot,—a reformer of the abuses of morals and virtue which had become a national calamity. He saw his country embarrassed, and plunging without help in the abyss of moral degradation. Dissipation and excess made Athens their home and revelled with impunity. "Give us a song of Anacreon or Alcaus!" was the common cry. A frightful voluptuousness had entwined itself about the devoted city, and its ultimate baneful consequences had begun their work. In these circumstances, when all eyes appeared to be blinded to the jeopardy by the fatal incantations of vagrant vine-clad Muses, this high-toned moralist saw the havoc that was in operation. He desired to restore his countrymen; he would not treacherously descend to flatter them.

To accomplish this, he selected a different course from the ordinary plans of young men. To an Athenian entering on life and aspiring after eminence, the inducements to virtue were weak and few, but to vice numberless and strong. Popularity was to be acquired among these degenerate republicans; not as formerly among their great ancestors, by toilsome struggles for pre-eminence in purity, by discipline and austere virtue, but by squandered wealth, profligacy, and flattery of the corrupt populace. What, then, had an obscure young man, poor and friendless, to expect, sternly binding himself to virtue, and attacking the prevalent vices and prejudices of a great nation? This was certainly no unworthy prototype of the circumstances of the founders of the Christian religion. He devoted himself entirely to the instruction of the young, astonishing them with a strange system of doctrines which inculcated the love of poverty, the forgiveness of injuries, with other virtues equally unknown and unpractised.

His philosophy was a source of good sense and of sublime and practical morality. He directs his disciples to know and practise the purest principles of virtue; to be upright, benevolent, and brave; to shun vice … the dreadful monster which was roaring through earth for his prey. The motives which he presented for their encouragement were as pure as the life they recommended. Such inducements were held up as advancement in the gradations of moral and intellectual perfection,—the proud delight of becoming more acceptable in the eyes of Divinity, and the promise to virtue of communications from other and higher spheres of existence. The notions of the nature of God which Socrates entertained were infinitely more correct and adequate than those of any other philosopher before him whose opinions have come down to us.

Additional praise is due to him, since he alone dared to express his sentiments on the subject and his infidelity to the popular religion. "What is God?" said the disciples to Plato. "It is hard," answered the philosopher, "to know, and impossible to divulge." Here is that reluctance which timorous believers were obliged to display. "What is God?" said they to Socrates, and he replied, "The great God himself, who has formed the universe and sustains the stupendous work whose every part is finished with the utmost goodness and harmony; he who preserves them perfect in immortal vigor and causes them to obey him with unfailing punctuality and a rapidity not to be followed by the imagination—this God makes himself sufficiently visible by the endless wonders of which he is the author, but continues always invisible in himself." This is explicit and noble. He continues, "Let us not, then, refuse to believe even what we do not behold, and let us supply the defect of our corporeal eyes by using those of the soul; but especially let us learn to render the just homage of respect and veneration to that Divinity whose will it seems to be that we should have no other perception of him but by his effects in our favor. Now this adoration, this homage, consists in pleasing him, and we can only please him by doing his will."

These are the exalted sentiments and motives which Socrates enforced upon men, not in insulated or extraordinary portions of his system but through the whole compass of his instructions. Convinced that the soul is endowed with energies and powers, by which, if well directed, she strives and climbs continually towards perfection, it was his object to stimulate and guide her; to quicken her aspirations with new motives, to discover and apply whatever might spur on conscientious endeavor or back its efforts with omnipotent strength. He wished the care and improvement of the soul to be of chief concern, that of the body comparatively trifling. The natural effect of his philosophy was to form an accomplished pagan,—so perfect a man as was compatible with the state of society; and this state should not be underrated. A nation of disciples of Socrates would suppose a state of human advancement which modern ambition and zeal, with all its superiority of knowledge and religion, might never hope to attain. And, could Athens have expelled her sophists and corruptors, and by exhibiting respect for his instructions have extended the influence of her most mighty mind until the chastity of her manners was restored and the infirmities of her dotage displaced by active virtues,—had her citizens then become the converts and advocates of Socratic sentiments,—she might have flourished and triumphed on till this day, a free and admirable commonwealth of philosophers, and looked with enviable unconcern on all the revolutions about her that have agitated and swallowed up nations; and Philip of Macedon and Mummius of Rome might have slept in obscurity. But this is digression, and we can offer no apology except the pleasure which such revision affords. We must now proceed to say something of his ambiguous genius.

The daìmōn of Socrates partakes so much of the marvellous that there is no cause for wonder arising from the difference of opinion manifested in its discussion. Those who love to ascribe the most to inspiration in the prophets of God's revealed religion claim this mysterious personage as akin to the ministering spirits of the Hebrew faith. Those who, with Xenophon, know not of this similarity, or who do not find foundation for this belief, look upon the daìmōn only as a personification of natural sagacity; some have charitably supposed that the philosopher himself was deluded into a false conviction that he enjoyed a peculiar communication with the gods by the intervention of a supernatural being,—learned their will and accomplished their ends. These supposed claims which Socrates laid to divine inspiration have induced many to carry their veneration to a more marvellous extent than we can safely follow.

We are willing to allow that they have plausible arguments who have considered the philosopher in the more imposing view, as an especial light of the world commissioned from heaven and as a distant forerunner of the Savior himself. Dr. Priestley, with a bolder hand, has instituted a comparison between Socrates and the Saviour himself. We are not disposed to enter upon these discussions, as they do not lead to truth and serve only to bewilder.

R. M. Wenley (essay date 1889)

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SOURCE: "Socrates and Christ" in Socrates and Christ: A Study in the Philosophy of Religion, William Blackwood and Sons, 1889, pp. 236-64.

[Here, Wenley contrasts Socrates with Christ, stating that while there exist "points of external contact" between the two men which "render comparison by no means unreasonable," they nevertheless had little in common in terms of "inner spirit."]

The "great solicitude" sometimes "shown by popular Christianity to establish a radical difference between Jesus and a teacher like Socrates,"1 is a misapplication of effort. The contrast stands in need of no further emphasis than that which history has so plainly given it. Antecedents, problems, contemporary influences, were different for both, not in degree alone, but also in essential nature. Neither special pleading, nor introduction of supernatural attributes, is necessary in face of authentic occurrences, which must after all be largely self-explanatory. Every leader of men exists, "not for what he can accomplish, but for what can be accomplished in him."2 But the "in him" has reference to a living organism, and not to dead matter. What can be accomplished depends very largely upon the co-operation with which the man is able to aid circumstances. Opportunity is the world's work, but no amount of external pressure will cause two rational beings to interpret opportunity in precisely the same manner. Each reacts upon it in his own way, and so the results are invariably diverse. Much more is this true when not only the opportunities, but also the individuals, are entirely different, at the beginning of the process. Action and reaction are not equal and opposite in the spiritual world, for in every given case the rule receives a new application. Abstract from Socrates and Christ everything, except the attributes "Athenian" and "Nazarene," and the "radical difference," which so many sincerely desiderate, but place on a wrong basis, remains unimpaired.

But no such narrow distinction needs to be adopted. The natural course of history, without any tendenz interpretation, has set a great gulf between Socrates and Christ. It could be shown, for example, that even if Greek philosophy and Christianity were traceable to a common source, the latter possessed elements which the former had not.3 The factors of a complete revelation, which the Greeks had failed to derive from their Aryan ancestors, reappeared, by some inexplicable process, in Palestine, and that at the time of Christ. These, and like considerations, are, however, foreign to the present task. It is sufficient now to take Socrates and Christ as we find them, and to note, that totally different circumstances influenced them, that alien civilisations produced them, that self-consciousness found distinctive expression in each. The sense of defect which swayed Socrates had reference wholly to man's knowledge of himself. The power of the Sophists was both founded on, and productive of, misbelief. Socrates saw nothing to prevent individual wellbeing, if only self-knowledge could be obtained. Nor had the time arrived at which to regard spiritual or mental research as hopeless. The external world, which the older Greek philosophers had studied so assiduously, seemed less important to Socrates than the inner sphere of mind. Of this view, and of the self-study which it implied, he was the Greek pioneer. The difficulties complicating such a search, and the possible illusoriness of the self-perfection in which it was to end, did not impress Socrates so much as the conviction, of which his daimonion was but an aspect, that there is a permanent principle in man. This, in his view, was far more worthy of attention than culture, than phenomena, material or political.

To one thus assured of the actual, the question of possible or impossible, probable or improbable, did not appeal with much force. Socrates had nothing to remove, he rather desired to arrive at something which certainly existed. He was thus able, as, for example, in 'Protagoras,' to deny the possibility of virtue through self-knowledge, and yet, by this very denial, to show that his negative is better than the Sophists' positive. Protagoras professed to teach virtue without a basis; Socrates was only seeking for it. Yet, his tentative efforts resulted in an assurance the bare possibility of which his contemporaries scouted. He set himself to discover a new realm of thought, but he was certain of its discoverableness ere he began to search. His it was to bring this reality home to the everyday life of the time, and to follow out his method of so doing, even though its conclusions were the prison and the poison-cup. He gave himself for the progress of rational inquiry at a crisis in its development, and on this account we enrol him with the greatest. Yet to mistake his work, in this matter, were certainly a poor way to do him reverence.

The circumstances into which Jesus was born were of a totally different character. Unacquainted with the learning of the Greeks, and in all probability quite unaware of that peculiar Judaism4 which Philo represented, his work had little relation to the discovery of new intellectual spheres. Nay, it was brought about by causes which were in strange contrast to any operative in previous times. The answer to the cry of a world in pain, its inherent force proceeded in great part from its very simplicity, as compared with systems which the mental subtlety of a single people had previously produced. Christ found it necessary not only to enunciate, but also to prove the perfectibility of man. And at the time, such was the state of the nations, that the proposition was sufficiently improbable to be startling, the practice unprecedented enough to be convincing.

The condition of the Roman Empire need not be made subject of too complacent comparison. "It is a common remark, that very few lines need be altered in Juvenal's Satires, beyond what is purely local, to make them applicable to the London, or Paris, or Vienna of to-day."5 But even thus, there is an irreducible difference. The spirit—to take but one instance—which was so greedy of blood, that the amusing slaughter of 20,000 men, slaves no doubt, could take place almost without comment, has disappeared. Superadd nigh inconceivable brutality, rampant cynicism, and barefaced lust, to all that is most devilish in our modern capitals; take away shame from vice, cancel the sneaking admiration for goodness which even the worst will to-day accord, and think of the absolute need, yet apparent folly, of a doctrine of perfectibility. In Palestine itself, where a larger remnant of moral effort still remained, goodness was mainly misdirected. For, when morality takes the form of special commands, it loses much of its cogency in transmission. Conventional rules serve but to dry up the springs of sympathy from which all that is most valuable in life—all that is not of mere prescription—flows. Christ gave Himself for the perfecting of humanity at a period when perfection either appeared an absurdity, or was fenced round with regulations that rendered its attainment impossible. To show Rome that there was a life of the spirit, to tell Judwa that her law was morally suicidal, this was His mission. Even Pilate felt that his conduct had finished the former work. As a cultivated Roman he might hopelessly inquire "What is truth?" but as a responsible man, he could declare, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person." Christ's statement of perfectibility was proved by His practice, but for the finality of the proof He died. "We have a law, and by our law He ought to die." The execution of this condemnation broke the law in pieces, and issued in the possibility of perfection for others everywhere.

But even here we cannot stop. Socrates and Christ are separated, once more, by racial diversity. No juggling with subjective presuppositions6 can explain away the fact that Christianity grew out of Judaism. It did not come forth from a religious idea, but from a religion. No law of abstract logical categories was the cause of its birth. Had the stern intensity of the Hebrew spirit been absent, Christianity might have appeared, as did Philonism, in the guise of an intellectual system, it would never have been a religion. One might as well hope to Hebraise Socrates as to Hellenise Christ. Athens under Pericles brought forth men whose like has never been seen. Yet in a few short years others sprang up, in Greece and elsewhere, to inquire what might be the meaning and permanent value of all that had been achieved by their Periclean predecessors. Socrates was the first of such inquirers. A citizen of a unique city, he found it necessary to ask himself what were the presuppositions of his citizenship. Because he was a Greek, he had the means at his command to found the science which treats of man's relations with his fellows. Nevertheless, the subject-matter of his inquiry—a society based on rational principles—was known to the Israelites from early times. But they did not come together spontaneously like the Greeks, and thereafter proceed to reflect on the happy chance. They were members of an ordered community, whose relationships had been determined according to the dictates of a national conscience. Socrates could demand justice between Greek and Greek; Christ could require purity of all men. Race distinction rendered their respective interpretations of life's realities radically different.

In several of its aspects Socrates' work overlaps that commonly considered peculiar to the religious teacher. His conviction, that "the penalty of unrighteousness is swifter than death,"7 might be taken as the motto of his career. While others had been content thoughtlessly to assume the inner life, he was determined to know it, and, in the light of this knowledge, to guide his action. Indeed, the formation of character on a new basis, rather than the systematic discussion of ethics, was his lifework. It was ethical in its aim, rational in its method, practical in its results. Without any dry body of doctrine to inculcate, Socrates was able, mainly by the force of example, and by the application of new standards to things wrongly held precious, to alter current conceptions concerning conduct. By no means a metaphysician, he yet made life subservient to ideas obtained and tested in dialectic dispute. For he had already laid hold on the principle that conduct consists in "the application of ideas to life." Not to change his fellow-citizens, but to show clearly the generally accepted yet half-apprehended principles, on a tacit understanding of which the state found basis, was Socrates' business. The just man has only to perceive the "general definitions" underlying society, to become straightway the good man. In wisdom he realises what is highest. Thus, however little he may have known what the good was, Socrates saw that social wellbeing is dependent upon individual morality. The Athenians had doubtless some vague notion of what "morality" meant for themselves. But, like Euthyphro's piety, it stood in need of definition. Socrates, by his conduct and conversation, indicated this need, if he did not absolutely supply it.

Hence his personality was possessed of a semi-religious influence, or rather, he exerted himself for the conscious moralising of his fellows. The manner in which the entire man Socrates pervades the work of his greatest disciple, and is traceable neither here nor there, neither with this limitation nor with that, but is a constant living presence, may be taken as typical. In such a view Socrates' mission so far overlaps that of the religious teacher. The jailer in 'Phado' felt the magnetism of the martyr's character. It was not the subtlety of metaphysics that caused him, on the bare enunciation of his errand, to burst into tears and go out.8 He needed no more than Socrates' presence to convince him that this was a just man, for whose death he could assign no adequate reason. The possession of self, which true self-knowledge alone bestows, was in the highest degree distinctive of Socrates. He cannot but have impressed himself upon others more by his personality than by his doctrines. He could not tell Plato what "the good" was, but Plato knew that Socrates was good. Conviction was written upon his conduct, and this, far rather than set phrases, must have helped his friends to clearer notions of the "ought-to-be."

It is exceedingly difficult, if not altogether impossible now, to determine to what extent Socrates' ethicorational work received from his living presence the "touch of emotion" inseparable from religious principle. Enthusiasm for the man could not, in any case, remove the limitations under which he necessarily laboured. Zeal for a more clearly defined political morality, and supreme confidence in the mental capacity to discover principles of social action, cannot but have been quickened to fullest life by Socrates' personal example. Yet, in the modern sense of the term, religious influences were but little formative of his career. His petition for "inward purity and for a lot that shall best agree with a right disposition of the mind," is limited not only in its conception of deity, but also in its grasp of the possible relationships between divine and human. Concerned chiefly for self-knowledge,9 he did not depart from this his way to overturn popular belief, and he was satisfied if he could see in the world a principle analogous to the self in individual life. Speculation, and nothing else, led him to entertain such doubts as he may have had respecting traditional polytheism. The unity of purpose, which characterised his whole career, was but the other, and the familiar side, of such well-grounded scepticism. Socrates was therefore a religious teacher in that he was true to what he understood. Strength to be himself was his, and, as a consequence, all the qualities of gentle manliness, which issued from conviction of personal superiority, linked, however, with hesitation in deep consciousness of ignorance, served to endow him with a sway sweeter as well as stronger from its artlessness.

Knowledge that the Athenian citizen lacked the inner sense which would have enabled him to act upon principle rather than from habit, and a presentiment that he could do something to fill this gap, stood to Socrates in place of the more spiritual religion only attainable by a later generation. Had he not been a "religious" man, after the manner in which it was then possible for him to be such, neither Xenophon nor Plato could have had such a testimony to bequeath. His religion consisted in his life, spent as it was in the exercise of his best social and intellectual powers for the discovery of a "good," which all Greeks might consciously pursue. He was "religious," because, realising the reason for his being, he used his life, regardless of consequences to self, in the true spirit of the moral artist.

Nevertheless, it remains true that Socrates was primarily a moralist. The genius of the Greeks produced a unique species of civilisation, which was mainly remarkable for the external presentation of an artistic ideal. Socrates applied this ideal to the life of the individual in the city state. He taught men, that by taking thought, they might put opportunity to better uses, or might be enabled, by the application of discoverable methods, to substitute dignity and beauty for the querulousness customary in common life. Laudable and indispensable as an aim of this sort is, one cannot but admit that it differs widely from the object of religion. Moral philosophy can furnish ideals, but it is unable to tell how far conduct, oppressed as it is by adverse conditions, may be brought into harmony with the universal "ought." "A man's religion is the chief fact with regard to him,"10 not because he can put his signature below the Thirty-Nine Articles or the Westminster Confession, but rather because he has certain convictions with respect to the possibility of realising what is best, even in circumstances which might make the worse appear the more profitable act. Religion presents a concrete reality to man's consciousness, while morality witnesses to a mental ideal which is the terminus ad quem of an infinite being. The one is, the other may be. What Christianity has to tell is embodied in a life; the teaching of Greek philosophy is, that happiness must be sought in wisdom, but what that wisdom contains for the bettering of men it never definitely declares.

Moral life continually projects itself towards the best conceivable ideal. Formally, it may be entirely an extension of self for the sake of self-improvement. But the religious man cannot rest content with this. The mere growth of self is not sufficient. Nay, the direction which advancement takes, and the process in which it shapes itself, are both altered with him. Perception of goodness may assuredly be accompanied by a reaching forth to something like it. This is the highest form of the moral life. But religion implies, in addition, the possession of a goodness which, in the shape of a creative principle, transforms the entire man. It is so far easy to know and to discuss a speculative ideal, and it is well to conform to such an ideal, always granted that it is capable of partial realisation. Yet all this may be done, and thoroughly done, solely with reference to the self. In this sense personal morality is largely illusory, and so remains devoid of that ideal actuality which religion demands. It leaves something to be discovered, of which religion feels itself to be in possession. Morality testifies to the consciousness of a higher life, but it does not give man his kingdom qud that life. Just as idolatry is a makeshift for the satisfaction of faith, so morality is a temporary salve to religious aspiration. It connects man with a supersensible sphere, through the inner conflict of his own nature, but it can affirn nothing with regard to the reality of that sphere. The truth is, that the ideal which morality sets forth mediately on rational principles, religion reveals immediately to the soul. The apparatus of proof that points to an unattainable "is" which "ought to be," finds substitute in a positive conviction of a real "is" which "has been." Self-sacrifice takes the place of mere self-projection towards the ideal, and this means, that the ideal is no longer beyond man, hid away perhaps in some impossible region, but is in him, and is attainable only through his willingness to actualise his own undoubted inner capacity for well-doing.

There are many who cannot see that morality finds any extension in religion, or who consider it derogatory to man's dignity, that reverence should be paid to a God—known or unknowable. But on the view just stated, religion is an advance upon morality, and its aim is not primarily the glory of God. "It is not for the benefit and honour of God, but for the benefit and ennobleiment of Man.… God has nothing to gain by our devotion, but men have very much to gain by other men's righteousness."11 But righteousness is not the result of precept, it is consequent upon the building up of character. And character is fully formed only when, by its own inner force, it brings forth the best that is, and does not merely abase itself before an external "ought-to-be." Righteousness, in other words, is a religious product. The moral greatness of Socrates, of Plato, and of many Stoics of antiquity, has rarely found equal in the Christian ages. Yet, in these last, the types of holy living have added something to moral greatness. The ideal has been brought down from an abstract heaven to earth. It is in man's own heart. Not the assertion of self, with its proud humility, but the real sacrifice of the whole man to that which is known to be good character—this is the Christian conception. Because the ideal is in man, self-sacrifice must be recognised as the sole self-realisation. The beauty of holiness transfigures him in whom others first bear witness to its presence. Socrates gave direction to life, but Christ revealed in His own person the very principle without which there would be no life. The ancient world, in the work of Socrates and of the few who were like him, sought to reconstruct man's life on the basis of a reinterpretation of his nature; and this must always remain the work of morality. But with the appearance of Christianity, God and man were shown to be co-essential, and the task of morality was superseded, if not eliminated, by the affirmative declaration of religion. Finally, within its sphere, the Socratic teaching had not fathomed reality fully. It is in no sense unfair to say, that the Greek sage knew almost nothing of the inner force by which men, as indeed all things, "fulfil the law of their being."

But on the other hand, it would be merest childishness to deny the influence of Socrates as a forerunner of Christ. The revelation of the one was preparatory to that of the other, just as morality is frequently the seed of religion. In the development of the religious consciousness, for example, the progress towards monotheism, so conspicuous in Socrates and the other Greek philosophers, was but one of the many lines that ultimately converged towards Christianity. No doubt, such ideas were peculiar to thinkers who regarded superstition as spiritual food fit for the mob. Yet the confidence of Socrates in a supreme being was the foundation of Plato's affirmation, that man is like to God,12 and this, in turn, is not very far removed from Christian doctrine. The Greeks had, in short, discovered a certain element in human nature, which demanded definite satisfaction. With this they were unable to supply it. God night be "single and one" for them, yet they could not conceive how, being such, he was able to enter into relationship with the many. They adumbrated one element in the religious conception, more than that they could not grasp. But Socrates, in that he tended to replace polytheism with a species of quietist monotheism, must not be denied his place as a forerunner of fuller religious development. Whatever may be said of the varied semi-religious conceptions of Greek philosophy, there can be no question that the light thrown back upon the past now enables one to estinate Socrates' value as a herald of Christianity. Here his true greatness must be sought, and that in well-authenticated facts. For "the ideal of Christian life is far more clearly distinguishable from the ideal of Greek and Roman, than the elements of opinion and belief which have come from a Christian source are from those which have come from a secular or heathen one."13

Now ethically, that is, in principles of rational action, Socrates and his followers were but one remove from Christianity. The investigation of self, begun by Socrates, although it ended for him in the identity of the knowledge of virtue with virtue itself, was the groundwork of the difference between goodness and counterfeit goodness, which Plato and Aristotle afterwards formulated. For these thinkers virtue is its own reward, and their praise is, that whatever be the form of man's religion, virtue must ever remain self-satisfying. This was the great principle which, by means of rational investigation, Socrates was the first to bring to light. The common measure of all the virtues is the desire of virtue, which is excited by the knowledge that virtue can be obtained. Thus, Socrates represents in practical life the preparation for Christianity, which the Hebrew prophets supplied on the more strictly religious side. He taught that to be good is good because it is good, and thereby furnished the form in which true Christian morality has always presented itself. In this respect Socrates was a real prophet, reaching forth to an end which he could not fully see. His life, no less than his teaching, pointed at once to an ideal, and to an acknowledged human need, which he could neither reach nor supply. When he thus gifted the Greeks with a perception of moral quality, he set the seal of insufficiency alike upon their exclusive citizenship,14 and their polytheistic religion. But he could not tell what "the good" was, and his philosophy was powerless to stay the appetite which it had created. After him ancient thought occupied itself in the attempt to fathom human nature. Ethical need, infinite then as now, was man's to increase knowledge and sorrow. Religious aspiration was also his. But for the former no full satisfaction was obtainable, for the latter none at all. The Greek protomartyr merits, and surely none would grudge him, the homage due to his consistent life and glorious death. Yet he was separated from Christ both by attainment and by distance in time. He felt the yearning that Christ came to soothe. And whatever praise may be his, it must always be remembered that the end was not then. When, through what Socrates had not done, "philosophy had grown sad by thinking beyond its depth," there was necessity for a greater than he.

If the mission of Socrates had been mainly ethical, that of Christ was at once moral and religious. But the religion, of which he was the chief corner-stone, cannot be defined as "morality touched by emotion." Ethical and emotional elements it doubtless had, but these do not represent its entire content. So long as man is upon this earth his lot is to struggle with sin and misery. At no period in history did the issue of the conflict seem darker than when ancient philosophy, in the person of Seneca, became helpless to stay Nero's brutality.15 Consciously or unconsciously, the Roman Empire was crying aloud for light upon the awful problem of evil. And the light burst forth in a life which, although moral and human, had itself a magnetic influence which all have agreed to recognise as unique. This is the point which, in the estimation of the properly equipped sceptic, even nineteenth-century blasphemy cannot blaspheme away. Christ taught man how to bear sorrow, and by the sacrifice of self, to eliminate sin from life. It was not possible that the cup of suffering should pass from Him, and as He drained it, He created righteousness, thereby proving that even for us the draught is not too terrible. Now the implication of this holy life is, that the moral philosophy of Socrates had been superseded. The ideal had been made actual, and that not as an abstraction, substantive or other, to which men could only progress. It had taken personal form—that is, it had been revealed as a principle organic to life. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature," not because something mysterious has been done for him, but because, by his own recognition of kinship with Christ, he is assured that he too can do what the Master did. Self-sacrifice is not only the character of Christ, it is also the one key to the movement of the entire spiritual universe.

Stirb und werde!
Denn so lang du das nicht hast,
Bist du nur ein truber Gast
Auf der dunkeln Erde.

The deepest testimony to this truth is Jesus' growing conviction of it, which only found culmination on Calvary.

Nor is this self-sacrifice a mere piece of mechanism for the manufacture of happiness. It is rather a principle of moralisation which, in its long conflict with sin and selfishness, develops new faculties in the individual character. The width of the Christian conception, including as it does all men, imposes responsibilities upon us which the Greeks, even in their finest moods, could not have imagined. For it points to no small society cinctured with a holiness wrought out of the degradation of all beyond its own circle. It constitutes the pursuit of the good by self in sacrifice a means to the bettering of all men. Christ set forth, not the doctrine alone, but its application. He did not come unawares, but brought to an end the problem of evil, then ready for solution. Moreover, he proved the practical value of his solution as a working scheme. His self-sacrifice has nothing in common with asceticism. Renunciation of self is not sought for the mere sake of renunciation, but in order that, purified of all the self-seeking which shuts out true riches, man may become the instrument at once of his own and of his fellows' perfection. If any one apprehend perfectibility, as it stands revealed in Christ, he cannot but adopt Christian ethics. For only thus will he gain for himself a completeness, which is indissolubly bound up with an identical perfection in others. As Christ was the first to proclaim that God can only be served in man, so He was the first to tell that such service will never be absolutely worthy until wrought in humanity as a whole. In this, His true humanitarianism, Christ supersedes Socrates. He appeals to the whole man and to mankind, while the Greek sage speaks only to the free-born citizen, and to him rather as a thinker than as an essentially moral agent. For this reason, Christ's work is eternal, and whatever one may think of His nature, Christianity cannot be separated from His person.

Eliminate the theory of Christ which was diffused among the Jews prior to His advent;16 admit that nothing is directly known of Him, save what is told in the discourses collected by Matthew, and in Peter's reminiscences edited by Mark—who had never seen the Master;17 allow that the "pedantic ingenuity of rationalism" is misdirected scarce at all,—and you do not detract one whit from the value of Christ's Christianity. His "application of ideas to life" still remains the one essential and commanding fact in His career. He not only promulgated but lived a principle, against which intellect cannot revolt, and for which conscience records its whole testimony. His religion is His, not because He formulated any creed concerning Himself, but because He alone trod the only road to man's natural perfection. Christianity is inseparable from His person in no dogmatic sense, but as a matter of everyday experience. We cannot look back across the ages and fortify our faltering faith with "a tremulous quasi- knowledge of a whole globe of dogmas."18 Only if the Christ-life be reproducing itself here and now, can Christianity be regarded as in vital connection with the Person of its founder. That it is thus connected His veritable creation of righteousness proves. He did good for the sake of so doing, and this His revelation may, nay, must go on reproducing itself.

         So, each ray of thy will,
Every flash of thy passion and prowess, long
  over, shall thrill
Thy whole people, the countless, with ardour,
  till they too give forth
A little cheer to their sons: who in turn, fill
 the South and the North
With the radiance thy seed was the germ of.19

Reasonableness and naturalness are the chief characteristics of Christ's revelation. Non mors sed voluntas sponte morientis.20 Only an unrivalled knowledge of the human heart in its origin and destiny could have effected the combination of material necessity and spiritual inevitableness by which it continues to sway the world. The complete humanity of Christ's life is the cause of the permanence of His religion.

"To say that a man has genius is to say that all he effects is truly and entirely the result of others' labours and done by their power; that he is merely a stimulus, and owes his influence solely to his relation to an organisation built up, and a functional power accumulated, wholly by others … Genius does things without force because it does not do them, as the fall of an uplifted body needs no force."21 Of all the great this is true. But in relation to Christ, it receives an application sui generis. Theirs is the result of others' labours, and for Him too the whole course of civilisation had been preparing. But what he effected was not brought about once for all by the co-operation of prior and contemporary influences. His genius is not a mere expression of what others thought and urgently desired; it is a living force which still remains, and reproduces its own qualities in the lives of men now. "Heroes" and "Representative Men" are the quintessence of epochs; He is the germ which fructifies at all times. In this respect He is without parallel, and so we cannot separate His Person from His work.22

Nor does the contrast between Christ and the other masters cease here. He superseded Socrates, and it might very well seem, that after so many centuries, and in view of the "service of man," His time to depart had now also come. Notwithstanding, Christ's work cannot but remain so long as human nature retains its present constitution. Expansion is not without conditions. "Because our present house is too small for us, it is not to be inferred that we shall live henceforth in the open air. As a general rule of life and conduct, we see as yet no reason to believe that liberty, if this be its meaning, is better than service."23 Christ revealed the source of virtue in His life of lowly obedience. The "service of man," of which we now boast ourselves, is a bare possibility only through Christ's subservience and humiliation. It is easy to take humanity as we find it, and convenient to ignore this fact, but then it is also easy to accept light without a scrupulous recognition of the sun's agency. The peculiarity of Positivism is that, apart from its distinctive philosophical tenets, it is virtually a reproduction of one portion of Christ's principle.24 Why go about with a candle to see the sun? Its altruism is His also, but without the integration which He deemed necessary to complete the character of an individual. His consciousness of God—which is but the more spiritualised expression of what has been rediscovered as "cosmic religion"—had its counterpart in His consciousness of mankind, which is to-day the raison d'etre of that second faith so called, the "religion of humanity."

The supremacy of Christ is further enhanced by the strange circumstance that His revelation is not, like the work of Socrates, of Luther, or of Carlyle, representative only of a specific stage in the world's development. Like others, He came at a crisis which was for Him. It used to be supposed that in Him divine revelation culminated, and remained final thenceforward. After a sort it did, but progress has been continuous since. "God did not retire to rest after the well-known six days of creation; but, on the contrary, is constantly active as on the first. It would have been for Him a poor occupation to compose this heavy world out of simple elements, and to keep it rolling in the sunbeams from year to year, if He had not had the plan of founding a nursery for a world of spirits upon this material basis. So He is now constantly active in higher natures to attract the lower ones."25 In this later advance the Christian revelation is continually renewing itself. Historically it appeared at the time which was prepared for it. But it is not only a stage like others, for it is perpetuated in a principle which is the motive force of human nature, and must remain operative, no matter how circumstances may change. In the other masters we see all that is, in Christ there was all that ought to be. Socrates was the forerunner of later ideals, Christ Himself was the exhibition of the ideal in history. Christianity, just on account of those elements which differentiate it from Greek philosophy, constantly stimulates the higher life, and that without laying any restrictions upon intellectual activity. For Christ's work is a spontaneous revelation of human nature—of a nature which has spiritual as well as mental and material needs. His kingdom is not of this world, and only in so far as this is true can it remain in the world. It makes little difference what dogmatic views recommend themselves to the individual mind. For there is religion without rites, and there may be churches without religion. But the power of a perfect life can never pass away. It is for humanity, because in man full expression was given to it.

The eternity of Christianity is based on human nature, the kaleidoscopic creeds are but accidental embodiments of the true reality. What boots it for practical life that Christianity is often no better to its professors than was Islam to Mrs Skewton.26 Presented in such shape it is indeed useless, and the sooner that science completes its destruction the better. But the answer given in Christ's life to the timeless question of man's relation to sin and misery, continues among the eternal verities. And so long as man is

Created half to rise and half to fall,

it must remain. Art may to-day revive Hellenism, in so far as that is possible, and baptise its find the "Religion of Beauty." Physical science may go back to the abstract monotheism of Palestine, and call its setting of God over against man "Agnosticism." But the interpretation of the great truths contained in each of these movements is already beforehand with them in Christianity. There Hellenism and Hebraism met, not under the form of a doctrinal system, but in a nature which at once realised God's transcendence, yet continual presence, in the beauty of the world and in the human spirit.

The inner life which Christ illustrated and actualised is the highest revelation to man of the universal moral order. But no seal is thus set upon the potentiality of things. Men are Christians, not because they accept a few dogmas which outrage both intellect and conscience, but because they perceive in the man Christ Jesus a kind of being which is the one permanent index of a universal human "capacity of using and modifying any existing state of things," for the furtherance of wellbeing, intellectual and social, no less than moral and religious. Man's chief atheism is sin, and if the consecrated life of Jesus be without message to those who would live sin down, then, so far as revelation has gone, atheist man is doomed to remain. But there is a message which, whether willing or unwilling, human nature cannot shut out. The modernness of Christianity lies in this—that for sin we must even now "suffer with Christ whether we believe in Him or not."27

While, then, there are points of external contact between Socrates and Christ, which render comparison by no means unreasonable, it must be remembered that in inner spirit they have little in common. Above all is it necessary to avoid the radical misconception of regarding Christianity as a species of sublimated Greek philosophy. The life of Christ could only have been lived when and where it was lived. No speculative system contemplating, like Greek philosophy, an explanation of being, could have produced that sense of sin which culminated in a life of grace. Socrates was able to consider his death an inevitable sacrifice, just as Christ did. Yet he died in the full assurance that punishment had already overtaken the evil men who composed the majority of the Dicastery. For this reason, were there none other, his fate does not appeal to us with the same power as Christ's. Both had strength given them to die in a just cause. But the occasions were not identical. The calmness of Socrates and the agony of Christ are separated by constituent elements which, if subtle, are none the less obvious. The Socratic philosophy represents the bringing to birth of what was highest in Greek thought. Its founder was able to die calmly, because he was persuaded that the world-order had universality. This universality he had tried to find in the life of each man. Yet even had he known the reign of law, and of liberty, as it is now understood, his revelation would still have been imperfect. Later thinkers, persuaded of this imperfection, sought to surmount it in various ways. But the conception of the moral governance of man was not to be completed from Greek civilisation. The wise man, so called, might think about it, and describe it, but unfortunately, the wise man himself never appeared, nor could he.

Only in the matrix of Judaism, surrounded by the consciousness of an ethical God, and determined by the idea of living to this deity, could the wise man appear. The Greek ideal of a mediator between the transcendent God and the world, the Græco-Roman conception of the sage's life, and the Jewish thought of a saviour, were all requisite to, as they were realised by, the Christ. He did not protest that He was such, but, by living as He did, He solved the universal problem. In a sense, He added nothing to the knowledge of Greek and Jewish thinkers,—Philo had all the elements,—but he brought thought about God and morality out of the theoretical region of discussion down to the practical sphere of the Godlike and moralised life. And of this change the Jewish religion was the prime cause. Socrates and Christ are both revealers of principles, which they incarnated. For each the crisis of history called. The religious intensity of Jesus was impossible to Socrates, because utterly foreign to the entire mode of thought which he expressed. Yet without it, the lesson of the ages would have been proper only to the Greek man, not to humanity.

Socrates and Christ alike had faith in the ideal, but this was different for each. The artistically rounded life of the Greek citizen, set with nicest care into the united social fabric, could not, Socrates was persuaded, be produced on the Sophistic method. His work, therefore, was to find a new way to the ideal which his age contemplated. Like the other masters, he had to "fit to the finite his infinity." But the ideal, partial even as it was, still remained ideal, and no struggle of later thought availed, save as a process of development, to bring it nearer. Yet, although in Christ the moral possibilities of human nature found realisation, Christianity is no exceptionally supernatural phenomenon. It came in the fulness of time, when the passage of thought from the phenomenal to the real, as seen in Greek philosophy, had prepared a way for it. The spiritual discipline of the Jews was the determining factor in the life of Christ, but the problem, which He died to solve, was also set in the Gentile world. Judaism saw heaven from earth, Hellenism imagined earth heaven, and both at last felt that their conceptions were illusory. Christianity brought heaven to earth, and, by inculcating, as Christ lived, that this is the place of self-sacrifice for the moralisation of humanity and of the individual,

         Goes changing what was wrought,
From falsehood like the truth, to truth itself.28

The comprehensiveness of Christianity is the evidence that it is no transfigured Hellenism. Christ breathed a new spirit into the world by living for the sake of righteousness. He put the existence of an ideal life beyond possibility of question. To-day His religion is not a mere recorded fact of intellectual history, but because His work is completed and human, Christianity goes on reproducing itself as a manner of life. In its essential eternity for man it depends ultimately, neither on historical occurrences, nor on theological dogmas, but on the constitution of human nature. Knowledge of Christ must be gleaned as is knowledge of Socrates. But, seeing that Socrates was a searcher after the ultimate in man and God, and Christ a verification of the divine in the human, knowledge of Him comes with power. The perfection which is possible for man He had. His life was the answer to every cry for deliverance from the burden of sin, because in it are to be seen certain spiritual experiences which, let knowledge be what it may, are continually repeating themselves in human nature as the sole means to moral perfection. What those experiences were, Socrates did not understand. But he was among the first to awaken that consciousness of defect, which went on deepening through the ancient world, until all spiritual functions were "smothered in surmise" of superstition. The appearance of Christ was eminently natural, and in the principle of His life all that the world desired was granted. His Personality, and the possibilities of human nature which it revealed, form His indestructible contribution to moral progress. As the great Person, who subdued the greatest crisis in man's history, He is, and, so long as the world is governed by Reason, must remain, the type, in assimilating themselves to which other persons may rise to further self-completeness.

"The true reality that is and ought to be, is not matter, and is still less Idea, but is the living personal Spirit of God and the world of personal spirits which He has created."29 Before Christ the conception that self-conscious personality was common to God and man alike had been but dimly foreshadowed. The Christ-life elevated it into a certain fact. Here then is Christ's inalienable contribution to human progress. His religion cannot fail of endless application; for His perfect character is the sole guarantee that every man, though knowing the evil, can be true to himself only in being holy and in following after righteousness. But this righteousness is not an external thing upon which one can lay hold or towards which one can progress. In the self-conscious sphere the category of law, as usually conceived, has little or no application. Yet it must not be supposed, on this account, that personality develops aimlessly. True, present conditions are nought save as interpreted by it: but, wanting them, the interpretation could not be. Both are essential factors in a life which is constantly revealing and actualising an immanent cause—an inner principle. Socrates was the first to observe the importance of this causa sui. It was Christ's to realise the absolute value of personality as such, and to show how, by a full apprehension of all that self-mediation implies, each may, nay, cannot but escape the yoke of the law, by using it as a means to his own perfecting. And this perfecting is righteousness. The good man is truly free; for, by appreciation of the transforming power of character, he finds himself capable of subduing all circumstances to his own growth in moral stature—a growth inseparably bound up with a like advancement in his fellows. Christ's life and teaching embody in full that freedom which exists only amid limitation, and issues the more triumphant the more it is circumscribed—freedom which, for this very reason, can be attained, in some measure, by all who, as partakers of His humanity, are able to make weakness the perfection of strength.


1 St Paul and Protestantism, Matthew Arnold, pp. 78, 79.

2 Representative Men, Emerson, p. 393 (Bell's edition).

3 La Science des Religions, Emil Burnouf, p. 220.

4 Cf. Is God Knowable? Prof. J. Iverach, p. 186.

5 Catholic Doctrine of the Atonement, Oxenham, p. 202.

6 Cf. Hegel, Werke, xii. 166.

7 Cf. Apology (Introduction), Jowett, vol. i. p. 326 (first edition).

8 Cf. Phado, 116.

9 Cf. History of Greece, Thirlwall, vol. iv. p. 268 sq.

10 Carlyle, On Heroes, p. 2.

11 Christianity in its Cradle, F. W. Newman, p. 127. I have taken the liberty of using the customary orthography.

12 Cf Thextetus, 176.

13 St Paul's Epistles, Jowett, vol. ii. p. 392.

14 Cf. Prolegomena to Ethies, T. H. Green, pp. 264-308.

15 Cf Essays and Addresses, J. M. Wilson, p. 107.

16 Cf. La Science des Religious, E. Burnouf, p. 242.

17 Cf. Through Nature to Christ, E. A. Abbott, p. 346 sq.; 373 note.

18 The Kernel and the Husk, p. 257.

19 Saul, Robert Browning, Works, vol. vi. p. 122.

20 St Bernard.

21 Philosophy and Religion, James Hinton, pp. 113, 114.

22 Lessing, in Die Religion Christi, and Herder in Ideen, like Goethe and others of the anti-eighteenth century school, seem to forget that the eternity of Christianity is not based, as they suppose, on a Person who is temporal, but on their own article of faith, that persons alone can transform a momentary act into an eternal principle.

23 Prose Remains of A. H. Clough, p. 409.

24 Cf. The Service of Man, J. C. Morison, p. 177 (head fifth).

25 Conversations of Goethe, Eckermann, pp. 569, 570.

26 "There is no What's-his-name but Thingummy, and What-you-may-call-it is his prophet."

27 John Inglesant, J. H. Shorthouse, p. 259.

28 A Death in the Desert, Robert Browning, Works, vol. vii. p. 145.

29 Microcosmus, Lotze, vol. ii. p. 728.

J. T. Forbes (essay date 1905)

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SOURCE: "The Teaching of Socrates: The Prosaic and Ideal Interpretations; The Criteria," in Socrates, T. & T. Clark, 1905, pp. 101-50.

[In the following excerpt, Forbes studies the controversy over the Socratic sources, examining the versions of Socrates presented by Xenophon and Plato and identifying the possible biases of each author. Forbes concludes that through the use of Aristotle's comments on Socrates, "the artistic verisimilitude of the Xenophontic and Platonic portraits," and the analysis of the development of Socrates's philosophy, a consistent view of Socrates can be attained.]

The question of authorities for the teaching of Socrates meets us at the outset of any attempt to deal with the subject. To two writers mainly, Plato and Xenophon, we are indebted for our knowledge; their testimonies being supplemented or corrected by what comes to us from Aristotle and others. Broadly speaking, outside the three named, allusions to Socrates are scanty, or of poor authority. The testimonies of Xenophon and Plato are very full, but differ much from each other. The references of Aristotle are brief, but of great value.

What, then, was the historic connection of our two chief witnesses with their subject? Xenophon is supposed to have become a follower of Socrates at an early age. The story of his life being saved by the philosopher in the retreat from Delium (424 B.C.) is not now accepted on account of its chronological inconsistency with the impression received from the Anabasis as to the author's age.1 Another story, which relates his first contact with Socrates, tells how the philosopher met the youth in a narrow lane, and, barring the path with his stick, asked him where this and that kind of thing could be purchased. The lad answered him modestly, and was then asked "where men were made good and virtuous." And on his answering that he did not know, Socrates said, "Follow me, then, and learn."2 This was the beginning of his discipleship.3 From the same source we learn that he kept records of the informal discourse of his master. Out of these doubtless the Memorabilia grew. The number and variety of the incidents and teachings recorded imply a lengthy and close intercourse between the philosopher and his pupil. They include correction of personal faults in disciples, discourses on filial and fraternal duty, on public life and military command, on finance and statesmanship, and many other practical matters interesting to a practical mind. To the truth of some of the stories he relates, he testifies of his own knowledge. Many times he says he himself heard such and such teachings. As to counsel given to himself, for example, he relates4 that, when invited by Proxenus to join the expedition of Cyrus, who had been the friend of the Lacedæmonians in the war, he had consulted Socrates as to his acceptance or refusal of the invitation, and had received the counsel to consult the Delphian oracle; but having, like many another, first decided on his course, he inquired of the oracle to which of the Gods he ought to pray in order to successfully accomplish his journey. After he had received the response, he returned and told Socrates the result of his visit, and was censured by him for not inquiring first of all whether the journey was one to be undertaken or not. After this determination his whole life-course was altered. His exile resulted from his connection with the enemy of his country. It is uncertain whether he ever returned to Athens. Socrates was sentenced to death in 399 B.C., and if Xenophon did return before then it can only have been for a brief period. But he had enjoyed years of close intercourse with the philosopher, and it was a labour of love to write a vindication of the faith and morality of that misjudged heretic.

Plato's connection with Socrates was perhaps scarcely so lengthened. It appears to have begun about 410 B.C. It is not marked by any very special incidents. But the enthusiasm of discipleship has glorified Socrates by making him the spokesman of the Platonic Philosophy, and by preserving pictures beyond price of the living as of the martyred teacher. In the closing years of the Peloponnesian War, and thence right on to the fatal year 399 B.C., Plato was in the closest intimacy with his master.

So far as opportunity is concerned, both men, Plato and Xenophon, were most favourably situated. Long and close connection with a teacher whose pupils were in each case personal friends, equalises circumstance, and leaves the accounting for differences in the presentation of the Socratic philosophy to the personal equation. Here there is the greatest possible difference. Xenophon, it has usually been held, was an essentially simple nature, a man neither inclined toward speculative thought nor fitted for it, but one who conceived philosophy as largely a process of moral training. He was a cavalry officer and a country gentleman, and at the same time a literary man, interested in history, politics, war, and sport; fully alive to the practical side of things, but apprehending less clearly the relation of all this to ideal principle. He disliked Athenian democracy and admired Spartan institutions; and soon after his return from the East ceased to be an Athenian citizen, and, making a virtue of his exile, became as much of a Spartan as he could.

His bent was practical. Philosophic discussion was not for the purpose of gaining intellectual satisfaction in the possession of a consistent scheme of things; it was a true training as opposed to the culture of the Sophists; an implanting of pious convictions and virtuous habits. The metaphysical basis of his master's theories could not be expected to attract such a mind. What he would give us, according to this view, we should expect to be a popular presentation of the easier and more external aspects of the Socratic teaching. His Socrates would be the moral censor of his time and the preacher of practical virtue, but hardly the leader of a philosophic revolution.

The case with Plato is altogether different. It is manifest that his presentation of Socrates is largely ideal. He chooses to put his own boldest speculations into the mouth of the teacher whose own thoughts, original and powerful as they were, clothed themselves in plain and homespun dress, and took a more modest range. The truth Plato is concerned about is ideal truth, not historical and chronological accuracy. It is his way of honouring the memory of his great master, to represent him setting forth cosmical and epistemological theories foreign to his actual thought. His own mind is the antithesis of Xenophon's. He breathes freely in the upper air of abstractions. His view of anything may be unusual, extraordinary, wrong; it is never likely to be commonplace. Hence the Socrates we expect to find in his pages, and do find, is an enlarged, idealised figure, in which it is not easy sometimes to discern the homely lineaments of the original.

Now, when it was held that the one drawback to Xenophon's testimony was, to put it bluntly, his somewhat prosaic mind, incapacitating him from seeing the deepest things in his subject, and that, so far as he saw, his testimony could be absolutely accepted, which was, till recently, the orthodox view, the problem was simpler. Plato could enter into the full mind of his master, and, while persuading himself that his presentation was but the full development of what was germinally present in the Socratic teaching, did, it was certain, sometimes expand and idealise that teaching beyond recognition. What was said, then, was this, "We must go to Xenophon for the plain facts of the case: and if he only gives a limited and prosaic view, we can fill this out by the generous Platonic interpretation in so far as the two views are not flatly in contradiction." Xenophon is thus the check on Plato, who is really the deeper and truer interpreter so far as he can be accepted, which is, when held to fact by the plodding record of the humbler writer.

But it becomes clear to any patient reading that the matter is less simple. Xenophon is no more a mere recorder or annalist than Plato. In his own way he writes history "with a thesis." If he has not a special philosophy to teach in the same full sense, he writes, in any case, in a particular apologetic interest. He is concerned to minimise the revolutionary aspects of the thought of Socrates. He wants to present a picture of the blameless teacher of virtue, the pious worshipper of the Gods; and he certainly succeeds in his aim. But we cannot but feel that it is at the expense of completeness. If Xenophon relates of his master nothing but what is true, he can hardly be cleared of sins of omission. The man he describes is too much clipped and shorn of his originality; not as daring or as radical as we feel the real Socrates must have been; too purely a moraliser, and even a proser. He could neither have inaugurated a new philosophy nor met a reformer's death. But this is not all. Xenophon has a constructive scheme in his mind. He writes not as a simple chronicler, but as a practised literary man. And his thesis is indeed constantly before him as he writes: He is not penning history in the modern sense. It is a eulogy that he gives us, not a biography, much less an estimate; and his view is limited by his apologetic and eulogistic aim as much as by his personal incapacity for pure speculation.

There was doubtless a temptation to each writer to simplify the complex personality of his subject by selection and omission. It was not easy to reduce to the simple moralist the man who could sit out the strongest at a drinking party, whose jests touched themes on which silence is deemed best to-day, and who could apply the principles of his philosophy to the arts of the courtesan. Nor, on the other hand, is it easy to recognise as a purely speculative thinker one who tells Aristippus that he knows nothing of any but relative good.

It is plain, indeed, that we do not attain to colourless history in either of the great witnesses. We cannot escape from an altered Socrates by the simple process of taking Xenophon as final. It is as serious an error to lessen and make commonplace what was great and original, as to idealise and magnify. Plato's view is that of the poet and the idealist, but there is little question that he saw the inner truth of Socrates more clearly than the practical Xenophon. It has been seen before that the Memorabilia partakes little of the nature of notes. Xenophon is not a Greek Boswell, keeping chronological records of his master's words and doings. What he gives is a defensive plea with a collection of sample teachings, and a description of the method of their impartation. The individual characters of the discussions recorded are but indifferently realised. The answers put into the mouths of those who converse with Socrates seem sometimes prepared so as to minister to the greater glory of the principal speaker. It may be no objection that the opinions of Socrates are the opinions of Xenophon, for he may have accepted his philosophy complete from his teacher; but whether an objection or not, it is true. There is, too, about the whole of the Xenophontic portraiture a flatness that contrasts with the dramatically sharp realisation of individual features in the Platonic dialogues. Some few passages, like the talk with poor Euthydemus, make an approach to vigour and vividness, but a good deal of the matter of the Memorabilia is a little dull and insipid. Now, the charm of the conversation of Socrates was, we may be certain, very great, to attract men as it did through so many years, and it is permissible to think that some of its fascination has been missed in the record, as well as some of its less facile elements, and much of the deep radical thought covered by its light play.

The most modern view of Xenophon's Socratic writings,5 is that they are really composed in the spirit of "tendency." As Xenophon departs from history in his idealisation of Agesilaus, and makes Cyrus the central figure of a historical romance containing views of his own on education and government and many other matters, so in his Socratic writing he is not by any means a rigid historian, but an artist in literary portraiture, and the Socrates of the Memorabilia and the (Economicus is to some extent an imaginative production. According to this view, we have to deal not with the plodding chronicler whose historic veracity is unquestionable if his vision is limited, but with a literary artist who presents a picture of his hero's life and teaching in accordance with a certain thesis of personal goodness in character and positive philosophic content in teaching. If he has read his master aright, a true picture may be given, but it is not got by historical exactitude. On its literary and quasi-historical side it will be a view analogous to his view of Agesilaus. Philosophically, other views representing the negative and hortatory sides of the Socratic work had been put forth with which Xenophon was dissatisfied, not because of incorrectness so much as of incompleteness. He was determined to show his master not as the perpetual questioner so much as the oracle of his friends, the teacher of positive truth, the guide in personal perplexity, the trainer of intellectual gifts for the public service. And religiously, too, he felt that he could give a more satisfactory representation of Socrates the pious man and the good citizen than could be gathered by those who had not personally known him, and whose impressions came to them from accounts that emphasized the perplexity in which, from their negative character, his discussions left men, modified by praises of his personal faith and piety.

Of the record thus given, the doctrine that virtue is knowledge and the dialectic of definitions are absolutely certain Socratic teachings. These things, indeed, are known as such through the testimony of Aristotle and the agreement of the Socratic schools. Teachings there are, it is thought, in the Memorabilia which find no analogies in the other writings of Xenophon; and, provided other more probable sources do not offer themselves, these may turn out to be truly Socratic. Other matter must be judged by its affinity with the ascertained teaching. The result is that we fall back inevitably on more or less subjective grounds of judgment. The references of Aristotle being accepted as of unquestionable accuracy, there remains the task of sifting Socratic teaching from the mass of Plato's dialogues and the Socratic works of Xenophon.

One or two principles tend to safeguard the truth of the matter. If Platonism is Socratic teaching idealised and developed in some directions almost beyond recognition, the artistic sense of Plato, as Fouillée6 remarks, is too perfect for him to attribute to his characters doctrines of which they could not even have possessed the germ. The outgrowth is not monstrous but harmonious. And again in Xenophon the special appeal of his apology would have missed its aim had the real Socrates been to the ordinary Athenian a figure broadly irreconcilable with Xenophon's presentation. It is a view something like that of the unprejudiced man of average intelligence, although written by a man who is to the limit of his capacity a devoted disciple.

Taking whatever truth this view may hold into consideration, what we shall be led to will be careful judgment of all Xenophon's testimony, and the elimination of whatever can be shown to spring from his idiosyncrasies. In his Socratic writings it is evident, from criticism,7 that there is much that is suspiciously like a personal contribution rather than a record,—the interest in strategy and cavalry generalship generally, in field sports and the management of a country estate, the fondness for Persian illustrations, the comparisons of Lacedamon with Athens. We cannot build a true account of the Socratic philosophy merely by making an uncritical collection of quotations from all writings that mention the name of Socrates. There must be a "discerning of the spirits." But with the few but sure criteria given, the task, while difficult, is not impossible. It is not contended that much will not remain doubtful, nevertheless we may by taking pains reach a substantially correct view.

The difficulty, indeed, of this is not to be minimised. Take one point, supposed to be, above all, well established, the Socratic confession of ignorance, so beautifully dealt with in the Apology, as the basis of the oracular verdict awarding Socrates the crown of wisdom. Turn to Xenophon, and, as Benn has shown, nothing is more certain than that, if his testimony is to be accepted, Socrates was of all persons the least self-distrustful. He was accused sometimes of virtually saying, "Come unto me and I will give you restlessness";8 but in the Memorabilia he appears as a person who has no doubt whatever as to his own competency to pronounce verdicts on matters the most difficult and the most diverse. He can instruct a field officer or a statesman, can pluck out the heart of the mystery of artist and artisan alike. As was said of Macaulay, many would be glad to be as sure of anything as he is of everything. Compare this somewhat self-complacent state of mind with the enquirer of the Socratic dialogues of Plato, and it will be seen immediately how great must be the allowance for the point of view. Can we simply, as Benn does, attribute Socrates' confession of ignorance to Plato, who had a rigorous conception of knowledge, and who here puts his own idea into the mouth of his master and draws "a discreet veil over the positive side" of his teaching (for which we must resort to Xenophon), or can we reach a point where these apparent contradictions are reconciled?

As to this particular point we have incidental but emphatic testimony from Aristotle, from whom words can be quoted that seem to deny positive teaching to Socrates, of whom he says that he asked questions but did not give replies, confessing that he had no knowledge.9 But while such an utterance establishes the point against which Benn contends, by showing the characteristic attitude of Socrates, it cannot, of course, in view of other and ampler testimonies, be taken as more than a mere description of a method that was habitual.

The authority of Aristotle again enables us to say that of the mass of matter put forward in the name of Socrates, certain doctrines belong to the Platonic Socrates, not to the Socrates of history. He is "accredited" by Aristotle with two things, inductive arguments and definition by universal concepts;10 and with being also the first to apply this procedure in the province of ethics.11 But these concepts, upon which knowledge must rest, have not in the thought of Socrates become hypostatised into independent realities of a world above sense upon which the mind prepared by dialectic discipline alone can gaze.12 This is Platonic doctrine. What with Socrates is as yet a product of abstraction, having reality in the mind only, is in the Platonic development an existence above and beyond individual objects, is indeed the only reality. Where this doctrine is taught, and where knowledge is traced to the mind's prenatal view of an eternal ideal world, recollection of which is awakened through the dialectical process, we have left the historic Socrates behind and are listening to Plato. In the identification of virtue and knowledge, too, Socrates and Plato agree; but there is, as Zeller points out,13 a difference not negligible. Socrates knows but one virtue which, because it is science, is communicable. Plato does not consider conventional virtue altogether valueless;14 it is a step to that which is based on knowledge.15 Nor does his doctrine of the unity of virtue coincide with that of Socrates, for he admits the existence of particular virtues, such as temperance and bravery, fostered by music and gymnastic,16 in the absence of the knowledge upon which alone, he yet holds, perfect virtue can be based.

By the use mainly of such criteria as the Aristotelian testimony, the artistic verisimilitude of the Xenophontic and Platonic portraits, and the study of the various developments of the Socratic philosophy, a view at once self-consistent and faithful to critically sifted testimony may be gained. It is by its success or failure in approximating to this that any attempt must be judged.


1 Dakyns, The Works of Xenophon, vol. i. Note iii.

2 Diog. Laërt. ii. 48.

3Circa (?) 415 B.C.

4Anab. III. i. 4-7.

5 Dakyns, Works of Xenophon, iii. pp. xxi, xxii.

6La Philosophic de Socrate, Methode Gènerale, i. ix.

7 Cf. Dakyns, loc. cit.

8 Drummond.

9 Arist., De Soph. Elench. 183b, 7.

10Meta. 1078b, 27-30.

11Ib. 1078b, 17-23.

12Ib. 1078b, 30-32; 1085a, 37.

13Plato and the older Academy, p. 448 sq.

14Meno, 97 sq.

15Repub. 518 D, E.

16Repub. 410; Zeller, Plato, p. 451.

R. Nicol Cross (essay date 1914)

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SOURCE: "His Teaching: Treatment of Enemies," in Socrates: The Man and His Mission, Books for Libraries Press, 1914, pp. 142-94.

[In the following essay, Cross points out that Socrates was known for his teaching that "in no circumstances is it just to injure anyone," including one's enemies. This concept, states Cross, contrasted sharply with popular sentiment at the time. Below, Cross identifies an incident in which Socrates appears to be saying that injuring one's enemies is acceptable. After exploring the apparent contradiction, Cross concludes that "we may take it as certain that Socrates practised, and practically certain that before his death he taught, the doctrine … that 'neither injury, nor retaliation, nor warding off evil by evil is ever right'."]

Reason and Reflection are radical forces, much more so than is sentiment; and just because more radical in their standards, they are more Catholic and universal in their judgments. Their function and tendency is to strip off the accidental and transient and penetrate to the essential.… Socrates, by appealing to the Reason within, was at once carried to a view which broke down the great conventional distinction between the class of the free who toiled not neither did they spin, and the class which had to toil and spin for them, a distinction which in any case was counting for less and less in the public life of Athens, as the Aristophanic drama shows.

The critical principle applied by Socrates not only cut at the root of the conventional opinion in regard to labour which set up a cleavage within the same society, but it was bound also to operate as a solvent for the unnatural divisions and relations between members of different societies.

If a man, e.g., ought to love his neighbour as himself, the inference of Reason is that he ought also to love everybody else's neighbour as himself. The consideration as to whether a man lives in the same street and the same society or in another street and different society, makes no difference from the point of view of the Reason in the way in which you ought to treat him. Taking them simply as individuals, the colour of men's skin, or their position geographically on the surface of the globe, does not affect the fundamental rights and duties which the Moral Law imposes as between them and ourselves. This was one of the great principles of the Practical Reason in the thought of Kant, who expressed it in the imperative so to act as if the maxim on which you act were to become through your will a universal law of nature. That means that ethically every person must have equal value for us, and we must treat all in the same spirit, and it leads to what may be called a rational or ethical Humanitarianism in which all such divisions and antipathies and hatreds as have no justification in reason and morality are abolished.

The question is, did Socrates see all to which the principle committed him, and did the vision liberate him from the ordinary ethic of his time, which drew a sharp line between friends and enemies, and sanctioned opposite modes of conduct toward them? "It is commonly held to redound to a man's praise," he says in conversation with Chærecrates, "to have outstripped an enemy in mischief or a friend in kindness,"1 a quotation of ordinary sentiment which it is worth observing occurs in a talk in which Socrates is pressing Chærecrates to take the initiative in healing the quarrel which has arisen between him and his brother. He advises him to go and frankly offer his hand to his brother in reconciliation. He will be sure to find his generosity reciprocated, but even if it should not be so, then "at the worst you will have shown yourself to be a good, honest, brotherly man, and he will appear as a sorry creature on whom kindness is wasted."2

But Socrates had a very high ideal of family relationships, and brotherhood was a natural tie which he believed God intended should bind members of the family together closer than hands and feet, or ears and eyes, in a community of mutual good;3 and the "Recollections" don't represent Socrates as inculcating the same attitude in the case of mutual enemies in general. Take the following words addressed to Critobulus by Socrates, who assumes the role of an agent for promoting friendships:

"If you will authorise me to say that you are devoted to your friends; that nothing gives you so much joy as a good friend; that you pride yourself no less on the fine deeds of those you love than on your own; that you never weary of plotting and planning to procure them a rich harvest of the same; and lastly, that you have discovered a man's virtue is to excel his friends in kindness and his foes in hostility. If I am authorised thus to report of you, I think you will find me a serviceable fellow-hunter in the quest of friends, which is the conquest of the good."4

It would seem as though Socrates had failed of his own principles in this matter, and that the pressure of environing ideas was too strong for the fidelity of his own spirit to itself. We confess we find it difficult, in virtue of the impression which the whole character of the man makes upon us, and which we have tried to convey … to believe that Socrates could be satisfied with such an attitude of mind towards his enemies. It conflicts with all we know of him, in his bearing towards others. We are not convinced by Professor A. E. Taylor's "Varia Socratica" that Socrates was actually a member of a Pythagorean brotherhood, but he was intimate with Pythagoreans, and it is not credible to us that one whom they affectionately recognised to be greater than themselves should have fallen below the moral level of the teaching of their school, which was, according to Aristotle, that they were "never to injure anyone, but endure patiently wrongs, and injury, and, in a word, do all the good they could." This was the very doctrine that Socrates practised. It was he of whom his jailor at the last could say that he was unlike other prisoners, for he had never railed at him, but had spoken only kindly words, and showed nothing but courtesy and benevolence; of whom Demetrius, quoted by Diogenes Laertius, could relate that once when he was kicked by some cad in passing, he only laughed, and when his friends expressed astonishment at this meek and mild behaviour, asked whether when asses kicked him he was to have the law of them;5 of whom Xenophon himself says that "he was never the cause of evil to the state, was free of offence in private as in public life, never hurt a single soul either by deprivation of good or infliction of evil, and never lay under the imputation of any such wrong-doing"; who, according to Plato's "Apology," found at heart no cause of anger against his accusers or those who condemned him to death,6 and could say in the presence of his fellow-citizens that he had never intentionally wronged anyone;7 who held that men do not commit wrong except because of ignorance, error, or illusion, not seeing the true character and consequence of their action. Could such an one believe in the doctrine of retaliation or of injuring enemies?

We confess we derive little consolation from Professor Joël's theory that Xenophon's account would be influenced by the Cynic doctrine that Justice consists in duct with his doctrine of ill-doing as ignorance, drives us to accept the unanimous testimony of the Platonic dialogues, which is to the effect that to return evil for evil on a man would only be to aggravate the evil.

In the "Apology," Socrates states his inmost conviction that "to be unjust and to disobey any one better than oneself, whether God or man, is contrary to duty and honour." The point, then, is as to whether or no it is unjust to render evil for evil, or under any circumstance to injure a fellow-creature. And to that we reply in the first place, that if doing evil is the result of ignorance, then to retaliate in like manner is unjust and wrong, and can only be the result of ignorance also, and we suggest that Socrates was not so dull and obtuse as to fail to recognise the obvious inference from his own principles.

Nor can we fall back on the idea that his conception of justice was, in itself, too confused and imperfect to exclude the maxim of retaliation. Socrates had got beyond the current position on this matter. "In questions of just and unjust, fair and foul," he says to Crito, "which are the subjects of our present consultation, ought we to follow the opinion of the many and to fear them; or the opinion of the one man who has understanding? Ought we not to fear and reverence him more than all the rest of the world; and if we desert him, shall we not destroy and injure that principle in us which may be assumed to be improved by justice and deteriorated by injustice?"8

In spite of the opinion of the many, and in spite of consequences whether better or worse, shall we insist as before, that injustice is always an evil and dishonour to him wpho acts unjustly?

CR. Yes.

SOC. Then we must do no wrong?

CR. Certainly not.

SOC. Nor when injured, injure in retuirn, as the many imagine; for we must injure no one at all?

CR. Clearly not.

SOC. Again, Crito, may we do evil?

CR. Surely not, Socrates.

SOC. And what of doing evil in return for evil, which is the morality of the many—is that just or not?

CR. Not just.

SOC. Then we ought not to retaliate or render evil for evil to any one whatever evil we may have suffered from him.9

The same conclusion is put into Socrates' mouth in the Republic:10

SOC. If, then, someone says that it is just to render to each what is due to him, by that understanding that injury is due to enemies, and service to friends, such an one would not be wise in so expressing himself. He has not spoken the truth. For it has been seen that in no circumstances is it just to injure anyone.

Socrates' argument has turned on the point, to him self-evident, that nothing that is right and good can possibly do hurt or injury to anyone.

In the "Gorgias" Plato makes him declare that the worst evil that can ever befall a man is to do wrong,11 and that if it were a choice between acting unjustly and suffering unjustly, between doing wrong and having wrong done to himself, he would choose the latter.12

In these dialogues, then, there is not a quaver of uncertainty about the conviction that the just and good man will never repay injury with injury but always with good, and it fits in beautifully with Socrates' character.

Are we to suppose, then, that Plato gives us the truth, and that Xenophon was mistaken and inconsistent in his reminiscences of the master's teaching on this theme? We should have no hesitation in taking that position, only there is one other dialogue ascribed to Plato—the fragmentary dialogue "Clitophon"—in which Socrates is taken to task for the obscurity and ambiguity of his opinions on certain matters, and this very question of the treatment of enemies is mentioned. Clitophon speaks thus to him: "Finally, Socrates, I applied directly to yourself, and you told me that it was the principle of justice to injure enemies and do good to friends. But afterwards it came out that the just man never injures anyone, for he acts with a view to the good of everybody in everything. And this was my experience not once or twice but for a long time, so I gave up my persistency, having come to the conclusion either that while you were without a rival in stirring up people to the concern of virtue, but could do no more … either you do not know really what justice is or you do not choose to communicate your knowledge."

This is a most interesting and significant passage, and the vacillation which it attributes to Socrates is not without commentary and witness in the Platonic literature at large. It has the note of authenticity about it, and on the strength of it we would suggest that while Socrates had long risen in spirit and sympathy above the ethics of contemporary orthodoxy, yet in the realm of theory it cost him a prolonged struggle to shake himself quite free of the views in which his upbringing had been steeped, and which were strongly entrenched in the social and even religious authorities around him. He experienced a protracted duel between the loftier and the lower conception of moral obligations, and in the end the loftier vanquished, so that he found it impossible to conceive that a just man would do any injury to any fellow mortal, even if injured by him. In his speculations and discussions he would start off from the generally accepted hypotheses on the subject; but would by the force of his own reasoning always be driven to the higher point of view. Perhaps, indeed, it would be on the whole the most fitting inference from the evidence before us to hold that, in accordance with his usual method, he only laid down the accepted opinion as a point of departure from which he could set out and carry others with him to the recognition of its untenability and the acceptance of his own real view, a method which was obviously liable to create misunderstanding in those who did not clearly grasp it. The contradiction alluded to by Clitophon would thus receive explanation as being due to the fact that he mistook for an admission what was only a concession for the purposes of an argument, whose issue was its overthrow.

Reviewing all the evidence, we may take it as certain that Socrates practised, and practically certain that before his death he taught, the doctrine of returning good for evil, that "neither injury, nor retaliation, nor warding off evil by evil is ever right."13

Emerson achieved an insight into moral law which led him to pronounce in his own oracular way that "the good man has absolute good, which like fire turns everything to his own nature, so that you cannot do him any harm."14

But 400 years before Christ Plato put the same deep spiritual truth on the lips of Socrates, who after his sentence of death calmly declares that "no evil canhappen to a good man in life or in death. "15 Virtue makes its possessor invulnerable; all things, even the rage of enemies, work together for good to those who love the good and are good. They are the protégés of Heaven; "neither they nor theirs are neglected by the gods. "16

With such conviction as that it would indeed be a degradation of self, not to say a grave inconsistency, to entertain the idea of revenge. Let a man be true to the divine law and ideal within him, and he has already conquered his enemies and the world. He can afford to do only good to every man, whether friend or foe. It is the same idea as was later promulgated by the Cynics, that all things were theirs. Spiritually they appropriated the universe. "The Cynic hath begotten all mankind, he hath all men for his sons, all women for his daughters; so doth he visit all and care for all. Thinkest thou that he is a mere meddler and busybody in rebuking those whom he meets? As a father he doth it, as a brother, and as a servant of the Universal Father, which is God."

It is worthy of grateful recognition that the principle of overcoming evil with good, which is the very flower of Christian ethic, was thus the possession of the great thinkers of Greece some centuries before Jesus and Paul inculcated it. And yet we must recognise a certain difference. Its root was not the same in Greek philosophy and in Christian teaching. In the former it was rather the flower of reason, in the latter the blossom of love. Perhaps in the case of Socrates we may say it was the fruit of both, as in that of Jesus; it grew not only out of his beautiful love but also out of his sweet reasonableness. We should not be doing more than justice to the Athenian saint to say that it was the natural product alike of his mind and his heart as they lie open to us in these wonderful records. The keenness of his intellect, the geniality of his nature, and the largeness of his soul, all led him to it, and it is as high as morality can take us.

Let us remember that for him all evil and wrongdoing has its origin in ignorance, ignorance of the true Good. That good, if we could only see it clearly, would be recognised to be one and the same for all. In it or moving towards it we are all in harmony and at peace. We only become enemies as we lose sight of the Highest and turn our hearts to lower and relative goods, poor deluded fools, divided not only from others but divided within ourselves. With the Apostle, Socrates could devoutly say, "Avenge not yourselves, beloved. For it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."17 Only that Socrates would have said that the man who does evil takes revenge on himself.


1 Xen., Mem., bk. ii. ch. 3, 14.

2Ibid., 17.

3 Xen., Mem., bk. ii. ch. 3, 18, 19.

4 Xen., Mem., bk. ii. ch. 6, 35.

5 Diogenes Laertius, bk. ii. ch. 6, 21.

6 Apol., 41 d.

7 Apol., 37 a.

8 Plato, Crito, 47. (Jowett's trans.)

9 Plato's Crito, 49. (Jowett's trans.)

10 Bk. i. 335 e.

11 Plato, Gorgias, 469 b.

12Ibid., 469 c.

13 Plato, Crito, p. 49 d.

14 Essay on "Compensation."

15 Apol., 41 d.


17 Romans, ch. 12, v. 19.

William Ellery Leonard (essay date 1915)

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SOURCE: "The Thinker," in Socrates: Master of Life, The Open Court Publishing Co., 1915, pp. 62-118.

[In this excerpt, Leonard explores the relationship between Socrates's philosophy and personal morality. The philosopher's goal, Leonard claims, was to reform human conduct.]


Every exposition of Greek thought, from the most pedantic to the most popular, has been divided into the two chapters, "Before Socrates," "After Socrates"; between which has stood a third, devoted to Socrates himself. Though he published no book in prose or verse, no philosophic hexameters on nature, no dialectic treatise on the Absolute, no criticism on ethics, politics, or the divinities that shape or refuse to shape the ends of man, his centrality to the development of speculation, as the mind which, while itself indifferent to the activities of its predecessors, brought to light other principles not only directive for thought in hitherto uncharted realms, but essential for any rational solution of those problems already broached, has been until very recently beyond all dispute, and will always in any case challenge disproof. And the importance of his practical wisdom for the unwritten history of conduct is presumably quite as great. Thus we are now face to face with one of the five or six most impressive and vital questions in the history of intelligence (as opposed to the history of human vanities and insanities—the rise and fall of dynasties and the interminable slaughters on land and sea): just what did this man stand for who lived so long ago under the hill temple-crowned, in the market-place girded by porticoes, within the walls against which even then the hostile armies were more than once encamped?

The question is difficult not alone because it is so much larger than every writer who would answer it; but because it is just here that our sources are so difficult and confusing. Biographical reports, when uncontaminated by miraculous elements or by suspicion of rhetorical purpose or partisanship, when squaring with the public customs and affairs of the times, and finally, when tending toward a consistent portrayal of character and conduct, we may trust, in default of any contrary evidence. Allowing for some possible ambiguities of imperfect expression, I suppose no scholar would seriously quarrel with the statements of the preceding chapter, as not being founded on serviceable authority. It called for no special gift to note and record the concrete events, whatever gifts were needed to record them beautifully. But to understand thought, thought new and deep, expressed symbolically, whimsically, mischievously, now to this one, now to that, now here, now there, now touching this matter, now that, did call for an alertness of attention, a keenness of perception, a steadiness of memory, and an objectivity of judgment not present at Athens, nor indeed commensurate with man's limited brains yet anywhere; while to set it all down as if verbatim was, as shown in a previous chapter, the attempt either of self-delusion or of literary fiction. We are shut up forever to reading between the lines and to estimating the cumulative evidence of innumerable hints, which, taken separately, we would have no means of testing, and no right to feel sure of. We can bring the difficulty home to ourselves, if we imagine posterity, without the Essays, dependent for its knowledge of Emerson's thought, on (hypothetical) miscellanies of conversation reported and edited by Alcott, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and other neighbors of the Concord apple-trees and pines.

The histories of philosophy, despite the imposing names on their title pages, mislead us (to borrow the language of Frau Academia) with the specious clarity of a rationalizing schematismus. Here just what Socrates repudiated and contributed is numbered and sectioned and paragraphed with that illuminating precision which facilitates preparation for the final examination. The studies of Grote and of Zeller, based upon a wide erudition and developed with a philosophic grasp it were pedantry to commend, convey also a misleading impression of certainty, which the contradictory results of the German scholarship of the last twenty years (of Doering with his Xenophontic Socrates, of Joel who clings to Aristotle, of Roeck who picks his data from portions of Xenophon and from much indirect and elusive testimony in the attitude of contemporaries or in the comment of tradition) tend to destroy, without, however, furnishing any constructive substitution in which we can feel full confidence. The new critics confuse while they help1; and the day has gone by when even a popular essayist can content himself with compiling from the old. Tentatively and modestly I will set down my own opinions, which, I suppose, will differ from those of better men in lacking the organization and definitiveness that, though much to be desired, it is impossible for me with intellectual honesty to reach.


What thought had been busied with before Socrates is, from the point of view of its dynamic contributions, far more important in the case of Plato in whom unite elements of the Eleatic, the Heraclitic, and the Pythagorean speculation, than in the case of his master, who is notorious for his break with the past. From the point of view of a crisis in the human intellect, however, it is necessary to make some mention of that thought here. A few words, then, with the emphasis on antecedents rather than on influence.

During a generation or two preceding Socrates, in the sea-washed colonies to east and west had developed a number of theories of universal nature, as free and large and intangible as the starry heavens and salt winds about them. The search for the universal explanation of things which had begun in the naive materialistic monisms of the Milesians, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximines, as deductions from the apparent omnipresence of water or the atmospheric indefinite, turned, with that sudden acceleration which characterized Greek progress everywhere in the fifth century, very shortly to rational analysis of concept and sense-impression of the phenomenal world: The Eleatics of Magna Graecia, holding the primacy of reason over sense, discovered the antinomies which forced them to deny reality to change and plurality; the first of metaphysicians, they proclaimed the absolute and pointed a way to scepticism. The great Ephesian, though positing like the physicists of Miletus, a material principle, fire, as the substratum of the multitudinous visible universe, is chiefly notable for paradoxes, as analytically derived as those of the Eleatics, which forced him to deny ultimate and permanent reality to anything but the Logos, the law of change itself, and to affirm relativity, the absolute instability of all things, as the inherent logical implication of being—pleasure conditioned by pain, life by death, thesis by anti-thesis. In the eternal flux there can be no certainty of truth, and Heraclitus, too, points a way to scepticism.

Pythagoreanism, coming after all pretty close to the intellectual basis of the world-ground in its doctrine of numbers, however fantastically applied and involved in that hocus-pocus which so often has accompanied primitive mathematics, is an esoteric cult of religious mystics with liturgy and rites.

Empedocles of Agrigentum, imagining a cosmogony almost as mythical and arbitrary as that of Hesiod, yet peopling creation with eternal substances (earth, air, fire, and water) and eternal principles of cosmic energy (attraction and repulsion), is, from our point of view to-day, physicist rather than philosopher.2 So too chiefly Anaxagoras of Athens, as far as we can judge, who taught infinite atoms and a universal mind-stuff.

Contemporary with Socrates, off at Abdera in Thrace, Democritus was teaching in numerous books now lost a mechanism of nature—atoms, motion, and the void—which, with modifications and extensions and a more elaborate terminology, is the physics and chemistry of to-day—or at least of yesterday.

These courageous efforts to master experience were all primarily directed outward. The challenge came from the majesty and mystery of the external universe. But in meeting it thought soon became conscious of its own mystery, and man himself became part of the problem. In the irremediable flux of Heraclitus and the cold atomism of Democritus men's minds tend to vanish into mere sensations differing for each: truth is as multiple as humanity; there is no universal principle of knowledge or thinking or conduct; man is the measure of all things. So Protagoras, the sophist. Meantime the later Eleatic, the sophist Gorgias, perhaps in half-jest, has pushed the dialectic reasoning of the school to the negation of being itself.

The path is open to absolute scepticism. The exploration of reason is ending in unreason. Speculation has thus far approached man from without; and that way madness lies. It must make a new start,—with man himself, man in his humble activities and daily round, irrespective of atoms clashing in the void and theories clashing in the brain. The philosophic implications in the simple mental life of an Athenian cobbler or saddler or armorsmith may bring us back to some conviction of permanence and certainty in thought. Thereafter it will be time enough to look again at the cosmos. Socrates, beginning and ending with man, ultimately saves Greek philosophy from self-slaughter. It is not for nothing that he is an Athenian.

But it is easy to present the situation too academically. Scepticism is troubling a few speculative heads. Their notions are abroad in Athens, imported over seas in parchment-rolls, well boxed from the damp salt air, or stalking the streets on the lips of the traveling professors. They are affecting not only the intellects of the abstracted, but doubtless the moral conduct of some of the active young men; but that Socrates in his new direction was consciously phrasing a philosophic task, or by saving philosophy was saving mankind, are propositions which distort both the larger mission of the sage and the relatively secondary importance of technically philosophic systems for the public health. From Socrates, as must be noted later, most subsequent Greek schools seem directly or indirectly to derive. But he was not aiming to reform philosophy. Nor could his re-formation of philosophy be a revolution—except in philosophy, a fairly negligible phase of human progress, if we take into account the few in any age who mull over its puzzles. No, Socrates's interest was in men and his aim to reform men; and, though he doubtless checkmated philosophic nihilism in more than one aggressive young dupe, he awoke to a sense of their ignorance and their heritage in the laws of the spirit many more, less sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought than ailing from moral lethargy.

It is easy in another matter to misrepresent the situation. It is not as if philosophy and morals came to a standstill, say about 440, to await help from Socrates. Historians distort the chronology. Gorgias, Protagoras, and Anaxagoras were teaching in Athens long after that date, and scepticism itself may not have been full blown when Socrates began his public work. Direct evidence is lacking, but there is plausibility in the conjecture that his first conversations antedated even the first appearance of the sophists. Gorgias, for example, came to Athens in 427, only five years before Socrates was lampooned in the Clouds.

In still a third matter the situation may be misrepresented. Socrates, during his long life, was not the only teacher at Athens who held that the proper study of mankind is man. Protagoras himself laid the stress there, as the logical result of his own scepticism, and the later sophists seem to have occupied themselves entirely with intellectual conduct and with moral conduct, like Socrates, independent, as to the former, of cosmic speculations and, as to the latter, of mere tradition. They certainly also used the cross-examining method, associated now with Socrates. As with Socrates, their business was the education of youth.

But Socrates is a greater sophist—not simply because he tarries in Athens, and they wander from city to city; not only because he teaches in the Agora and they in private homes; not altogether because he gives and they sell instruction, nor even because his wisdom is humble that it knows no more and their knowledge sometimes proud that it learned so much—greater because of greater moral earnestness. There were honest sophists, although contemporary writers and later anecdotists testify that some even then were the unprincipled jugglers with reason that have given the name its long current and unfortunate association. But none except Socrates made truth and righteousness the be-all and the end-all. A greater sophist, also, it need not be added, because a greater intellect and a greater personality.

And now, if with a little more imagination than poor Wagner, the student has begun

"Sich in den Geist der Zeiten zu versetzen,"

let him attempt

"Zu schauen, wie vor uns ein weiser Mann gedacht."


The thought of Socrates is implicit in his method. He was not a formal lecturer, as other sophists doubtless were at times, and as Plato and Aristotle were later. He talked, as all Athens was talking; he asked questions, and applied the answers to the business of further questions, as men had done before and have done ever since. He utilized on occasion the keener procedure of the disciplined mind, the dialectic which, applied earlier by Zeno the Eleatic to abstract matter and motion, etc., it was now the sophists' service to apply to human conduct—a dialectic which, as developed in the law-courts, was used against the examinee to ferret out his crime, but by Socrates for the examinee to ferret out his intellectual error. He shared, I repeat, his cross-examining method of instruction with the sophists, just as Jesus shared his parabolic instruction with the rabbis. But like Jesus, by a powerful originality he made a common device so much his own that we now connect it only with him.

Aristophanes, as we have seen, represents him as formally teaching his method, but this appears to be a wilful or reckless identification of Socrates with his fellow sophists who we know imparted the art of clever reasoning as a practical instrument, whereas Socrates, according to all other traditions, used it to impart truths beyond itself, teaching method merely by showing it in operation.

"He conducted discussion by proceeding step by step from one point of general agreement to another" (Memorabilia, IV, 6), and "by shredding off all superficial qualities laid bare the kernel of the matter" (Memorabilia, III, 2). He begins with the point of view of his interlocutor or opponent and, with an irony kindly or irritating according to circumstances and with frequent use of homely illustrations, leads him on inductively to one admission after another, until that interlocutor or opponent sees the implication in his own thought, that is, until he is face to face with himself as the unwitting possessor of a particular truth. Each man has within him truth, though as yet foetal and powerless to be born; Socrates comes calling himself the midwife. This was presumably his interpretation of the Delphic adage, "know thyself"; and, far from proud of his midwifery, he was "eager to cultivate a spirit of independence in others" (Memorabilia, IV, 7). He bored deeper into the strata of thought than the other sophists, and knew better its hidden caverns and springs; and, more than they, tapped it for living waters. The intellectus sibipermissus, "the intellect left to itself,"—the phrase is Bacon's,—the spontaneous reason of haphazard man he strove to make conscious and self-directive. His aim implied confidence in universals of the truth of which each individual partook, as well as confidence in human nature capable of self-salvation.

All our sources indicate that Socrates was unweary in his inquiries for … the What, the essential meaning of a thing. In Xenophon he appears discriminating, defining. The Platonic figure is presumably dramatically true to his intellectual attitude. The nub of the satire of the Clouds is rationalizing fanaticism corrupting the youth. And Aristotle says in a famous passage (Metaphysics, 1, 6, 3) that has caused a deal of trouble: "Socrates discovered inductive discourse and the definition of general terms," in contrast, as the modern critics point out, to the mere grammatical distinctions of the sophists. But our critics have certainly exaggerated what were for Socrates simply short formularies of the factors to be examined, not logic-proof concepts of abstract philosophy. Socrates was not a Begriffsphilosoph and would have enjoyed the practical joke of Diogenes (of the school of Antisthenes, a disciple of the midwife), who, hearing (as the story goes) of Plato's definition of homo sapiens as a featherless biped, plucked a rooster and carried it over to the Academy as an example of Plato's "man."


But these short formularies of the factors to be examined were of prime importance. Socrates emphasized the rational, the cognitive, aspect of virtue, as no other teacher: … "He made the virtues knowledges" (Aristotle, Magna Moralia, 1, 1), and since our first historian of philosophy recurs to the theory at length a dozen times (in all three Ethics), to explain and refute it, with that modernity and subtilty that forever astonishes us in

"II maestro di color che sanno,"

we must accept it as true at least to one side of Socrates's thought. Virtue is knowledge. In a sense: "To be pious is to know what is due to the gods; to be just is to know what is due to men; to be courageous is to know what is to be feared and what is not; to be temperate is to know how to use what is good and avoid what is evil" (Encycl. Brit.).

Various comments difficult to organize crowd upon us for expression. What of this dynamic relation between right thinking and right conduct, between ignorance and evil? How did Socrates arrive at the idea? How far did he admit its modification by other factors in human nature? Has it an element of truth?

The idea, in the first place, were a witness to the character of Socrates, whom a noble serenity of reason dominated like an irrefragable god. It were, too, an idea typically Ionic, Athenian, sprung from that stock which stressed the [logos] of life, even as the ideal of the Doric (Sparta) was the [enkrateia], the [erga] (deeds).

Socrates saw the actual identity of knowing and being in the theoretical sciences: to know geometry is to be a geometer. He may not have appreciated the difference of aim in the practical arts. He may have said that to know medicine is to be a physician, and thus have construed conduct itself as the science-art of life, so that knowing virtue was the same as being virtuous, and he may not have sufficiently perceived that the aim of every theoretic science is included within that science, while the aim of every practical art is some good beyond that art itself.

However, I do not care to push the Aristotelian critique further, as my imagination is haunted by an all but inscrutable chuckle of Socrates that yet seems to say: "This great man's subtilty and system takes the old beggar too solemnly. And I didn't reckon in the irrational part of the soul … ? And the will being in my view subservient to thought, the result is determinism? And was the market-place, then, such a poorly equipped laboratory that my researches left me so ignorant of the twists and starts and explosions of human nature? And will he deny the larger implications for systematic thought (if he must make me a system) which may be read out of my dealings with men?"

Granted that Socrates in speech and practice proceeded from the proposition to know is to be, applied specifically to conduct; granted that like every new and great thought, like the Copernican astronomy, like Biblical criticism, it was at first formulated too absolutely; granted that Socrates was not a theoretic psychologist and that indeed the psychology of the will and the emotions was not very extensively developed even till long after Aristotle; granted that life is forever in advance of all speculation upon it and that the first serious speculations on morals may as such have been an inadequate or inconsistent phrasing of impulses, motives, and ethical stimulus obvious even in the veriest honey-smeared brat screaming under his mother's sandal in an Athenian alley-way: it is yet impossible to square the thought and service of Socrates entirely with Aristotle's report; it is yet impossible to identify Socrates entirely with the Socrates of the text-books.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, said the adoring Hebrew; to know the right, as implicit in thy nature, is the beginning of wisdom, doubtless said the quizzical Greek: each in his own tongue. Knowledge is the sine qua non: not following a Pythagorean ritual, not following the Attic sires, not in itself following the laws of the state, but ethical insight. Socrates preached the self-reliance of an individual moral vision which was yet founded in universal man.

After the insight, what? For a finely balanced soul, in a sense, nothing. Insight merges into conduct; the initial readjustments of knowledge become, if not considered too curiously by the analytic psychologist, the readjustments of action; there is no fight pending with the world, the flesh, or the devil; he sees and he forthwith is what he sees. This was, I think, Socrates's ideal man. Socrates made less than we do of character up-builded by struggle and of the glories of doing one's duty against the grain. He was a Greek; we are Teutons with a Hebraic education.

Note, however, the condition: "for a finely balanced soul." Self-control, balance, poise, is the cardinal Socratic virtue. When present, moral insight is moral conduct. But more than that, its presence is practically identical with moral insight as well. "Between wisdom and balance of soul he drew no distinction"—… (Memorabilia, 111, 9)—is Xenophon's comment, and not too much stress is to be laid on the fact that his word is … (wisdom), not … (knowledge). And in a neighboring passage, "He said that justice, moreover, and all other virtue is wisdom."

Is, then, complete insight itself possible without this balance? If we take Xenophon absolutely, apparently not. Wrong conduct is either blindness or madness, i. e., either failure of insight or lack of soul balance; but these are practically two aspects of the same thing. Balance of soul, insight, right conduct, is the Socratic manhood, the not entirely mysterious three-in-one of this pagan anthropologist.

But what of the avowed situation of Ovid's Medea, and of so many others less damned to fame—

         "Video meliora, proboque:
Deteriora sequor"?

Would Socrates have denied the major?—Presumably he would first have questioned it; but often enough he was face to face with gifted men, like Alcibiades, who knew right and did wrong, with intelligent but vicious humanity where the cure, if any, could not be alone merely more intellectuality. He believed in training soul and body to self-mastery, not only as right conduct in itself but as the prerequisite for right thinking and right conduct (cf. Memorabilia, IV, 5). This is patent to any one who reads between the lines of our sources, and has perceived that Socrates's identification of different factors, is, if anything more than an insistence on the primary importance of moral cognition, but an immortal hyperbole of an original mind, not busied with a formal system, and not bothered by its inconsistencies, as when perhaps he said "courageous men are those who have knowledge to cope with terrors and dangers well and nobly," the adverbs seeming to imply the recognition of traits of character antecedent to the knowledge.

He recognized, though he may never have formulated, lack of self-control, insight, and conduct, the facts of temperament and environment, without wavering in practice from his belief in the relative teachability of virtue analogous to the teaching of a trade or art. He does not, however, seem to have valued over-much teaching through the emotions. There are hints that he more than once stirred the emulous heart by noble examples cited, but the oft mentioned enthusiasm of his listeners was roused usually either by his sweet reasonableness or the unplanned and unmeditated effect of his own brave and kindly personality. Of the blazing passion, in plea or threat, of Mohammed and the Hebrew prophets, or of the austere yet plangent appeal of the loving Jesus there is not a trace. There are many different voices for the schooling of man.

The new pedagogy stands quite across the world from where Socrates stood. With its experiments on the ethical emotions of cats and dogs, its statistics of innocent nursery prayers and depravities, its questionnaires on the moral agitations at puberty, and its roll-calls of public pensioners in Sing Sing or Fort Leavenworth, it has all but demonstrated the negligibility of knowing as a factor in virtue. And the parlor-philosopher, calling Sunday afternoon, shakes his head and assures me there is no connection between education and morality. Sad. And true, possibly, if by knowing we mean knowing mathematics and by education education in linguistics or the new pedagogy; verbiage, if we mean knowing moral values. The intellectual is still fundamental, and great character is still impossible without just thought as a big block in the underpinning. Meantime the common sense of mankind is rather with Socrates at bottom than with the new pedagogy, unconsciously testifying something of its unshaken viewpoint in countless familiar turns of speech: "Know the right and do it;" "You ought to know better;" "Poor fellow, he didn't know how disgraceful his actions were;" "What could you expect from a man who never had a chance to know the ideals of good citizenship;" "You're wrong, can't you see it?" etc., etc., all of which adumbrate the cognitive (without psychologizing it away from the imagination) and neglect the emotional altogether, as dynamic for conduct.

Kant founded the moral life in the good will; Socrates in right thinking. Yet each implies the factor made paramount by the other: Kant says act so that the maxim of thy conduct is fit to become universal law and implies the rationalizing, generalizing, judging, knowing mind; Socrates says a man without self-control is little better than the beasts, and implies that energy of soul to which modern psychology gives the name will. A worthy moral life is impossible without both, but the romantic ethical tendencies of to-day need the propaedeutic of Socrates more than of Kant. The good will we have always with us, giving often enough, with ghastly best wishes, unwittingly a serpent for a fish and a stone for bread; but the intelligence to see the practical bearings of conduct and to discriminate between higher and lower ideals is too often lacking—to the dwarfing of the individual and to the confusion of society. The fool in Sill's poem (which goes deep) prayed not for the good will, but for wisdom; and therefore the less fool he.

Socrates associated … "virtue," with some further ideas more prominent in his thought than would be presumed from the brief mention that can here be made of them.

He was, I believe, an incorrigible utilitarian. The measure of any thing's worth was to him in its adaptation to use. But after all, the crux is in the content of use; and Socrates recognized only noble uses. Reason as we will, we cannot reason away his implicit idealism: such and such conduct is useful—for what—for making you useful to the state, a brave soldier? for making you worth while to yourself, self-respecting? "But what's the use?" We cannot go far without standing before the mystery of the approving or condemning moral consciousness itself. Socrates appears never to have thought the matter out; nor need we just here. In spite of his rationalistic bent, he accepted as instinctively as most men the obligation to the ideal.

He preached companionship; and boasted himself to be both lover and the pander too. "I am an adept in love's lore".… the disciples "will not suffer me day or night to leave them, forever studying to learn love-charms and incantations at my lips." These words are found not in Plato's Symposiumn, but in the prosaic narrative of Xenophon, whose placidity in assuring us in another passage that "all the while it was obvious the going forth of his soul was not toward excellence of body in the bloom of beauty, but rather toward faculties of the soul unfolding in virtue," is a good indication that we have here an element of the historic Socrates. But friendship was founded on character: "In whatsoever you desire to be esteemed good, endeavor to be good" (Memorabilia, II, 6); to be a good friend, you must be a good man. Love was also fellow-service: the good friend tried to make his friend better. On the other hand, it was useful to acquire friends—they were the best possessions. The politic utilitarian peeps out again. But useful for what?—for the cult of generous helpers, for the freemasons of the Good. We come round again and again to the center of the Socratic utilitarianism which measured finally the useful things in the moral realm by their usefulness for the ideal manhood. The term has here little in common with its force in modern philosophy, though modern utilitarians have been too ready to exclaim, "Lo, he has become as one of us."

Socrates would not have been a Greek if his ethics had not had a social and political reference. Ideal manhood and ideal citizenship would have been for practical teaching one thing to him. He would have been hugely impressed with the adroit patience and clever tinkering amid loneliness and deprivation of Robinson Crusoe; he would have admitted doubtless that the brooding, skinclad sailor was not without some insight and some self-control which is of virtue; but for Socrates he would have lacked both the main opportunities and the main ends of good conduct: a state of fellow men. Thus the Athenian stands in almost brutal contrast to those gentle hermits of the inner life who have in times past peopled the caves of Egypt and the crags of the Himalayas.

This is clear for instance in the emphasis he seems to have put upon the ideal of a leader, the man best equipped to manage something, whether the drilling of a chorus for the theater, or the marshalling of soldiers into battle, or the ruling of a commonwealth.

Some aspects of this ideal are, to be sure, extra-ethical. The Greek [aretē] means human excellence, Tuchtigkeit, efficiency, with or without what we would call an ethical connotation, and it illustrates that differing focus of thought, that differing idea-group, that differing line of cleavage that so often strikes the student of a foreign tongue. I have not hesitated, however, heretofore, to translate it "virtue," for it is its aspect of moral efficiency that is so prominent in Socrates, though its absolute sense of simple efficiency doubtless tended in his thinking to specious analogies. Our word "good" offers a modern parallel, both in its double sense and in its sometimes ambiguous and misleading use in thought.

Socrates would not have been a Greek if he had not emphasized the sanctity of the sovereign laws as a guiding principle of conduct. The Greeks often spoke as if the state were the end of man; that is, as if man received his justification only in so far as he contributed to its perfection. That a state is but the wise communal means to opportunity, variety, unfoldment, manhood, of the only earthly reality that counts, individual human beings, is scarcely the point of departure of Plato's Republic or even of Aristotle's Politics, but is the result of a long development in political science, fascinating, but irrelevant here. Just how far Socrates failed to see it as we do, we have no certain knowledge. It is, however, on several grounds, to be confidently presumed that he derived the sanction of the civil law from justice, and not as is often declared, justice from the law. In the corrupt and shifting politics of Athens there were laws which he condemned and deliberately disobeyed in the interests of higher laws. And he would have taken courageously by the arm the Sophoclean Antigone, as she determined to bury her brother Polyneices in spite of the state decree, and have said, "Thou art right, my child; indeed,

"'The life of these laws is not of to-day,
Or yesterday; but from all time, and, lo,
Knoweth no man when first they were
      put forth."'


That Socrates conceived the laws of right thinking and doing as organic and not statutory, as not imposed from without but as implicated in the nature of the organism and as universal as man, seems clear from the general tendency and headway of his teachings. A ship may tack more than once in its course, but we measure the meaning and purpose of the voyage correctly only when we have checked up the casual deviations in a more comprehensive cartography. His conception of virtue has the transcendental implication; it roots in a beyond; conceptually, in the universality of the ideal; categorically, in his naive and unexamined assumption of man's sense of obligation to the ideal when discovered.

This is the thoroughfare from ethics to religion. When the soul, finally conscious of that transcendental implication (though it be named more simply, or named not at all), is awake with rejoicing or dismay to the realization that virtue streams ultimately from the shining foreheads of the gods, it seems inevitably to reach out with trust or prayer. Nor is the essential attitude altered if for his baffled spirit the Divine Singular or Plural merges into the Infinite Mystery that rebukes our petty vocabularies. There is no other highway. The philosophic reason that, examining the transcendental bearings of logic and nature, arrives at a world-ground, arrives only at the intellectual last, at the speculative satisfaction, which, though it may bulwark religion, can scarcely compel it. The feeling of physical helplessness or dependence or terror, the suggestion of spirit-things from dream or hallucination, or eery winds or nodding tree, may issue in beliefs with incantations and petitions and burnt offerings, reachings out to a Superior or a Host, but this is religion only in the Lucretian sense, denying often enough even the majesty of man himself—

"Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum."

A not ignoble morality is possible, uncompanioned by the reaching out which merges it with religion; but religion (apart from anthropological investigation) gives over not only its dignity and its beauty, but even its meaning if sundered from exalted morality.

If to Socrates was not revealed the transcendental implication of his life, if Socrates reached not out for the justification and sustenance of his ethic towards a Divine, then Socrates, though at the temple door, and though a servant there who worked righteousness and thus, according to bluff and honest Peter, also acceptable to Him, was still not a teacher of religion. His character, his service would remain, lofty memorial of humanity, lofty witness of a god unknown; but he were still not a religious mind. This if we have yet to consider.

It becomes more and more plausible that the fatal indictment is rooted in observed fact: "Socrates is guilty of not worshiping the gods whom the city worships." If he had been initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries at that time newly popular, his apologists would have risen forthwith against the dicasts. Plato's Apology practically dodged this charge of the indictment. Aristophanes, years before, had formulated it, and we cannot any longer throw Aristophanes peremptorily out of court as a mere irresponsible buffoon in an ugly temper. Satire makes no appeal unless it phrases a common belief: there would be nothing fetching about a satire on Roosevelt as an atheist, or on Emerson as a hunter and rough-rider, except as a cheaply comic inversion of well-known habits and traits, and Aristophanes was hardly perpetrating that sort of jest. His satire on the sordidness of the schoolhouse was founded on the fact of the poor and mean estate of Socrates's person; his satire on the Socratic speculations was founded in the fact of Socrates's perpetual rationalizing; his satire on the corruption of youth on the fact of Socrates's influencing young men to think new thoughts unprescribed by the elders; and his satire on Socrates's irreligion must likewise have been founded on fact—misunderstood fact, possibly, but fact misunderstood only as most of Athens may have misunderstood it. The Socrates of Plato, perhaps, helps us little; but it is to be observed that his remarks on dreams, oracles, and the gods have an elusive playfulness or poetry, pointing, if pointing at all beyond Plato, to a mind rather mischievously at ease in Zion, but not hostile to contemporary beliefs only because so far above them; and that his beautiful prayer to "Pan and ye other gods who frequent this spot" asks, quite contrary to popular petition, "in the first place to be good within"; and that the nearer Plato's Socrates seems to approach historic reality the more his religious allusions approach the indefinite "Divine," and the more eloquent is the expression of the moral law. The movement of thought with which Socrates was most nearly associated was away from the folk religion. Socrates was so much with Euripides, the infidel poet of the Enlightenment, that rumor accused him of dramatic collaboration. The chorus at the end of the Frogs—a satire on that poet—sings with meaning: "Hail to him who [unlike Euripides] neither keeps company nor gossips with Socrates." And, again, the keen intelligence of Socrates, as we have tried to analyze him, consorts awkwardly with the popular Olympians.

Against all this, we have the explicit testimony of the Memorabilia: Socrates was the most orthodox son of the state religion; the pillar and deacon of the church; the ambling odor of sanctity, now closeted with this priest, now with that, running about from altar to altar with incense and winecup or telling his beads to every saint in the calendar. We share Xenophon's own puzzlement that the state could have condemned to death such a simple-minded old gentleman for impiety.

But this was not the man they condemned. As suggested in the first chapter, it was almost a formula with Xenophon, when he admired a man (and he had in excess the goodly gift of admiration) to extol him for the piety and pious practices which played a dominant part in the eulogist's own life. That he deliberately grafted these domestic pieties upon Socrates is impossible; if he had conceived Socrates as the impious neglecter or defamer of the gods, he would have been the last to attach himself to the man or to rise in his defense. But that he absurdly misconstrued him seems patent. Socrates shared, as no other teacher, the life of his city; and the religious rites were so closely associated with folk-habits that he may well have attended them from time to time in the satisfaction of the social instinct of man. He may well not have sloughed off some deep-rooted ancestral prejudices: even Emerson raised his hands with the dismay of all his Puritan sires when he discovered the children in the house playing battledore and shuttlecock one Sabbath morn. He may well have used often enough the current coin of speech, in Greek, as in all languages, full of conventional religious phrases. But it was not alone in whatever unconscious relations Socrates may have maintained to the state religion that Xenophon misconstrued him. The profounder interests and ideas and temperament of Socrates he equally misread. Socrates visited everybody and studied everywhere: but he was not necessarily more a hierophant for visiting a seer than he was a shoemaker for visiting a cobbler. "When any one came seeking for help which no human wisdom could supply, he would counsel him to give heed to divination" (Memorabilia, IV, 7): the Socratic irony Xenophon presumably never half mastered. And, again, if Xenophon had asked him if he believed in Zeus and Athene and Apollo, he would doubtless have said yes, without hypocrisy, but also without explaining the ethnic period which lay between Xenophon's meaning of belief and his own. I myself believe in those resplendent deities. The fact is that religious narrowness always naively interprets the religious life of another by its own, unless kept back by clubs and spears. Give it the salute of mere human recognition, and it claims you for its sect. I have heard of an old lady who was moved by the orthodoxy of "that devout man, Mr. Gibbon." Joseph Cook, after an impertinent pilgrimage to Concord, announced so blatantly his conversion of Emerson that the family finally caused a printed denial to be circulated. That evangelist's methods were sometimes disingenuous; but here he seems merely to have fallen victim to his fatuity. The apostle probably asked: "Mr. Emerson, do you believe in sin? in salvation? in the Saviour? in rewards and punishments? in the Scriptures?" And the patient heathen as probably nodded a winsome assent of infinite detachment. I used to see at Cambridge my revered teacher William James crossing over every morning at nine o'clock to the brief chapel exercises in the yard, and have heard him both condemned and ridiculed by students who equally misconceived the simplicity and depth of that analytic yet brooding mind.

But we are approaching a point of view. If Xenophon cannot be taken literally, he adumbrates a positive truth. If Socrates was not religious in the folk-sense, he was religious in a higher sense. He did recognize the transcendental implication. Even Xenophon now and then seems to have caught his larger phrase: "His formula of prayer was simple—Give me that which is best for me." And it is difficult to imagine Plato making an absolute atheist even the dramatic protagonist of an ethical philosophy in which the transcendental implication is consciously conceived as fundamental. But much further it seems impossible to go. Socrates recognized the divine foundation and sanction of the moral law, whether he ever uttered the argument from design so rhetorically developed by Xenophon or not. But the rest is silence. Whether he held to one divine being, as is not unlikely; and whether immortality was more than the high hope of the Apology, as seems doubtful—we cannot report. An early tradition tells of a Hindu conversing with Socrates (and it is not historically impossible that some soldier from the Indus, impressed into the Persian armies, remained in Greece, as exile or slave, after the defeat). And he said, "Tell me, Socrates, what is the substance of your teaching?" "Human affairs." "But you cannot know human affairs if you don't know first the divine." Socrates, though no Oriental, may have assented in his own fashion. Yet the tradition hints at the true situation. He proclaimed the nobility of man, rather than the decrees of a god. He found the divine written in the human heart and brain, not on tablets of stone in the mountains. He came with no avowed revelation; he burned with no wrath against the folk-religion; he inaugurated no specifically religious reform. He was a messenger, a ministrant, a saviour, whose ethical idealism in word and conduct had its conscious religious aspect; but he was not primarily a religious leader. Mohammed passed from Allah down to man; it was man who led Socrates on to Zeus.

Yet, the indictment went on to accuse him of introducing gods of his own. Of this there is no evidence in the sense apparently intended. Plato makes Meletus call Socrates during the trial "a complete atheist"; and, when Meletus hung up the indictment he was either wilfully lying or but stating an assumed corollary to what was possibly to him the sum of atheism—denial of the city's gods.3 Or the historic kernel may be to seek in Socrates's modes of thinking and speaking about the Divine. What's in a name? Everything for popular thought. Emerson's "Brahma" is to many people either a meaningless or a blasphemous poem; change the name to "God" and they would paste it in their hymn-books. Describe with all science and beauty the life-habits and appearance of a flower, and then halt in a momentary slip of memory, and your amateur botanist supposes you an ignoramus because you can't name it. For most people a rose, if named Symplocarpus foetidus, would not smell as sweet. If the originality of Socrates ever invented new names for divine things, that would have been sufficient grounds for his enemies to suspect him of inventing new divinities; just as his use at other times of familiar names seems to have been a good ground for such friends as Xenophon to suppose him orthodox. For the rest, to me this specification in the indictment is but one more proof that the Socratic message of righteousness was often enough verbally associated with the transcendental implication. For, when we say that Socrates was not primarily a religious teacher, we do not forget that he was put to death partially on a charge of religious teaching; the inconsistency is merely formal.

Xenophon refers the charge to a misunderstanding of the daimonion which, according to common tradition, Socrates often mentioned as his warning voice or sign. Whether this explanation be in line with a hint in the preceding paragraph or not, may be left to the reader. We are forced, however, to examine the phenomenon in itself. What was the daiinonion … ? The question is double: what was it to Socrates? what is it for us? Though Socrates seems to have treated it, or pretended to treat it, somewhat like a familiar spirit or good genius, the word has properly no personal or theological meaning. Euripides and Thucydides, both men of the Enlightenment, use it of that which, given by fate, man must adjust himself toward and to. It was not synonymous with "demon"; Cicero rightly translated it "divinum quiddam" (De Divinatione, 1, 54, 122). To Socrates it may have been a literal voice, sounding in the inner ear. Not alone visionaries like Joan of Arc and Swedenborg have heard voices: Pascal and Luther heard them, though the former was the shrewdest intellect and the latter the soundest stomach of his age, and both men rooted in solid earth. If so, we turn the problem over to the psychologists—without, however, implying the neurotic decadence that becomes the business of the alienist. And they may name it a manifestation of the transcendental ego, or an instance of double personality, or an objectification of an unusually developed instinct of antipathy or of an abhorrent conscience, a non-rational residuum in the most rationalistic of men. Or to Socrates it may have been but a playful mode of referring to his disapproval of whatnots of conduct, ethical or otherwise, a disapproval reasoned out or immediately felt. The suggestion, tentative as it is, is still not an arbitrary assimilation of an ancient mind to modern rationalism. We know the ironic habit of Socrates, ironic not only toward others, but, with that deeper wisdom, ironic toward himself. We know he was given to playful exaggeration, especially to quizzical tropes. His pedagogic method he called midwifery; his faculty for friendship and for bringing friends together he referred to as incantations or pandering, using the most erotic expressions, which, in literal use, referred to things often even from the Greek point of view immoral; so too he seems to have spoken of his mantic, his oracular power, meaning simply foresight or premonition. The conception of the mind and temper of Socrates to which I have come inclines me to number the daimonion also among the tropes.

Again, if we take the daimonion literally, what of the Dog? The Platonic Socrates is found enforcing his asseverations by a blasphemous canine oath, which sounds like a historic reminiscence and may hint at another source of the charge of impiety and new divinities. "By the Dog they would" (Phaedo); "By the Dog, Gorgias, there will be a great deal of discussion before we get at the truth of all this" (Gorgias); "Not until, by the Dog, as I believe, he had simply learned by heart the entire discourse" (Phaedrus); and "By the Dog" he swears again in the Charmides, in the Lysis, and in the Republic. By what Dog? Molossian hound or Xanthippe's terrier? or some Egyptian deity that barks, not bellows? or Cerberus? More like. Strange and gruesome idolatry, which troubled some patristic admirers of the old pagan, as much as the cock his dying gasp bade sacrifice to Asclepius.


1 And a year after this was written, A.E. Taylor published his Varia Socratica, Oxford, 1911.

2 See The Fragments of Empedocles, by William Ellery Leonard, Open Court Publishing Co., Chicago.

3 But cf. Taylor, Varia Socratica, Chapter 1, "The Impiety of Socrates," and the footnote on page 54 of this essay.

Leonard Nelson (lecture date 1922)

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SOURCE: "The Socratic Method," in Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy: Selected Essays, translated by Thomas K. Brown III, Yale University Press, 1949, pp. 1-40.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture in 1922, Nelson discusses the Socratic method, defining it as "the art of teaching not philosophy but philosophizing, the art not of teaching about philosophers but of making philosophers of the students." Nelson goes on to offer examples of how the method works in practice and notes some difficulties of applying the Socratic method.]

As a faithful disciple of Socrates and of his great successor Plato, I find it rather difficult to justify my acceptance of your invitation to talk to you about the Socratic method. You know the Socratic method as a method of teaching philosophy. But philosophy is different from other subjects of instruction; in Plato's own words: "It does not at all admit of verbal expression like other studies, but as a result of continued application to the subject itself and communion therewith, it is brought to birth in the soul on a sudden, as light that is kindled by a leaping spark, and thereafter it nourishes itself."1

I therefore find myself in a quandary, not unlike that of a violinist who, when asked how he goes about playing the violin, can of course demonstrate his art but cannot explain his technique in abstract terms.

The Socratic method, then, is the art of teaching not philosophy but philosophizing, the art not of teaching about philosophers but of making philosophers of the students. So, in order to give a true idea of the Socratic method, I should halt my discourse right here and, instead of lecturing to you, take up with you a philosophical problem and deal with it according to the Socratic method. But what did Plato say? Only "continued application to the subject itself and communion therewith" kindle the light of philosophical cognition.

Despite the short time at my disposal I shall nevertheless venture a description of the Socratic method and attempt through words to bring home to you its meaning and significance. I justify this compromise by limiting my task, the sole object of my exposition being to direct your attention to this method of teaching and thereby to promote an appreciation of it.

A person who knows no more about the Grand Inquisitor's speech in Dostoevsky's novel, The Brothers Karamazov, than that it is a most magnificent discussion of a fundamental ethical problem, knows little enough about it; yet that little will make him more disposed to read the speech attentively. Similarly, whoever looks at the memorial tablet here in the former Physics Institute [Gottingen] that tells of the first electric telegraph invented by Gauss and Wilhelm Weber and how it served to connect that institute with the astronomical observatory will at least feel inclined to follow up the history of this invention with greater reverence. And so I hope that in presenting my subject 1, too, may arouse your interest in the significant and, for all its simplicity, profound method that bears the name of the Athenian sage to whom we owe its invention.

A stepchild of philosophy, slighted and rejected, the Socratic method has survived only in name beside its more popular older sister, the more insinuating and more easily manipulated dogmatic method.

You may perhaps suspect me of a personal inclination for the younger of the two sisters. And, indeed, I freely confess that the longer I enjoy her company, the more I am captivated by her charms; so that it has become a matter of chivalry with me to lead her back to life who has been forgotten and pronounced dead, and to win her here that place of honor hitherto reserved for the wanton sister who, though dead at heart, has time and again appeared all decked out.

Let me add, however—and this much I hope to demonstrate to you today—that it is not blind partiality that actuates me; it is the inner worth of her whose appearance is so plain that attracts me to her. But, you say, her sad fate—being disdained by the overwhelming majority of philosophers—could not have been undeserved and it is therefore idle to try to breathe new life into her by artificial means.

In reply I shall not resort to the general proposition that history shows no pre-established harmony between merit and success, for, indeed, the success or failure of a method as a means to an end is a very real test of its value.

However, a fair judgment requires consideration of a preliminary question, namely, whether a particular science is so far advanced that the solution of its problems is sought in a prescribed way; in other words, whether generally valid methods are recognized in it.

In mathematics and in the natural sciences based on it this question of method was long ago decided affirmatively. There is not a mathematician who is not familiar with and who does not employ the progressive method. All serious research in the natural sciences makes use of the inductive method. In fact, method enjoys in these sciences a recognition so unchallenged and matter of course that the students following its guidance are often hardly conscious of the assured course of their researches. All dispute about methods here turns exclusively on their reliability and fruitfulness. If, in this field, a method is dropped or retains merely a historic interest, the presumption is justified that it can offer nothing more to research.

It is quite otherwise, however, in a science where everyone still claims the right to make his own laws and rules, where methodological directives are evaluated ab initio as temporally or individually conditioned, subject only to historical appraisal. With luck one method may find favor and for a time determine the direction of future work. But in such a science errors, concomitants of every scientific achievement, do not inspire efforts in the already established direction to correct the defects; errors here are looked upon as faults of construction and must give way to entirely new structures, which in their turn all too soon meet the same fate.

What passes for philosophical science is still in this youthful stage of development. In this judgment I have the support of Windelband, the renowned historian of philosophy. He tells us that "even among the philosophers who claim a special method for their science"—and by no means all philosophers make such a claim—"there is not the least agreement concerning this 'philosophical method."'2

This conclusion appears the more depressing in view of his previous admission that it is impossible to establish a constant criterion even for the very subject matter of philosophy.

In view of this, one wonders what such philosophers really think of their science. At any rate, in this anarchy the question is left open whether the disesteem into which a philosophical theory falls in itself proves that the theory is scientifically worthless. For how can we expect to judge the scientific value or lack of value of a philosophical achievement when generally valid criteria for passing judgment do not exist?

Now, it is not that the diversity of the results made it difficult for philosophers to set up a systematic guide to their science. On the contrary, the great philosophical truths have been from the beginning the common property of all the great thinkers. Here, then, a common starting point was provided. But the verification of these results according to unequivocal rules that preclude arbitrariness and even the mere formulation of the pertinent methodological task with definiteness and precision, both these tasks in the general interest of philosophy have thus far been given so little attention that we must not be surprised that the devoted efforts of a few men to satisfy this interest have proved in vain. True, the lifelong work of Socrates and of Kant in the service of this methodological task has earned immeasurable historical glory. But, as far as its revolutionary significance for the establishment of philosophy as a science is concerned, it has remained sterile and ineffectual.

Twice in its history there was some prospect of getting philosophy out of its groping stage and onto the certain path of science. The ancient world punished the first courageous attempt with death: Socrates was condemned as a corrupter of youth. The modern world disdains to execute the heretic. It has passed sentence by "going beyond" Kant—to let Windelband speak once more.3

But there is no need for labored interpretation to appreciate the significance of these two men. They themselves stressed the meaning of their endeavors, explicitly and unceasingly. As everyone knows, Socrates constructed no system. Time and again he admitted his not-knowing. He met every assertion with an invitation to seek the ground of its truth. As the Apology shows, he "questioned and examined and cross-examined"4 his fellow citizens, not to convey a new truth to them in the manner of an instructor but only to point out the path along which it might be found.

His ethical doctrine, in so far as this designation is appropriate to his inquiries, is based on the proposition that virtue can be taught, or, to put it in more precise terms, that ethics is a science. He did not develop this science because the initial question, How do I gain knowledge about virtue? continued to absorb him. He held fast to this initial question. He accepted the absence of fruitful results with composure, without a trace of skepticism as to the soundness of his method, unshakable in the conviction that with his question he was, in spite of everything, on the only right road.

All subsequent philosophy, with the sole exception of Plato, stands helpless before that memorable fact. Plato took over and adhered to the method of Socrates, even after his own researches had carried him far beyond the results reached by his master. He adopted it with all its imperfections. He failed to eliminate its weaknesses and inflexibilities, surely not because of reverence for the memory of his teacher but because he could not overcome these defects. Like Socrates, he was guided by a feeling for truth. Having dealt so boldly with the content of the Socratic philosophy that philosophical philologists are still quarreling about what is Socratic in Plato's doctrine and what Platonic, he turned this boldness into homage by putting all his own discoveries into the mouth of his great teacher. But he paid Socrates even greater homage by clothing these discoveries in the uneven, often dragging, often digressive form of the Socratic dialogue, burdening his own teachings with his teacher's faults. In this manner, of course, he safeguarded the yet unmined treasure and thus gave posterity the opportunity of taking possession of it anew and of developing its riches.

But in vain. Today, after two thousand years, opinion on Socrates is more uncertain and more divided than ever. Over against the judgment of an expert like Joel, that Socrates was "the first and perhaps the last quite genuine, quite pure philosopher,"5 there is Heinrich Maier's statement "that Socrates has been labeled as what he quite certainly was not, a philosopher."6

This difference of opinion has its roots in the inadequacy of the criticism, which still exercises its ingenuity on the conclusions of Socrates' philosophy. But as these conclusions were handed down only indirectly and perhaps were never even given definite form by Socrates, they remain exposed to the most contradictory interpretations. Where criticism touches on the method, it either praises trivialities or assigns the value of the Socratic method exclusively to the personality of Socrates, as shown in the opinion voiced by Wilamowitz in his Plato: "The Socratic method without Socrates is no more than a pedagogy that, aping how some inspired spiritual leader clears his throat and spits, bottles his alleged method and then imagines it is dispensing the water of life."7

If Socrates' philosophy, lively as it was and rooted in concrete problems, found no emulators, it is little wonder then that the truth content of Kant's far more abstract methodological investigations failed to be understood and adopted—except by those few who comprehended his doctrine and developed it further, but who in their turn were pushed completely into the background by the irresistible Zeitgeist and passed over by history. The preconditions were lacking for the realization that Kant's critical method was the resumption of Socratic-Platonic philosophizing, and for the acceptance of the Critique of Pure Reason as a "treatise on the method," which its author, according to his own words, intended it to be.8

In addition to this treatise on method, Kant produced a system. He enriched the broad domain of philosophy with an abundance of fruitful results. It was these results that became the subject of controversy; but the hope of a satisfactory settlement was bound to remain illusory as long as no attempt was made to retrace the creative path by which Kant had reached his conclusions. Dogmatism remained dominant, more triumphant than ever in the erection of arbitrary systems that vied with one another in bizarreness and estranged public interest altogether from the sober and critical philosophizing of the Kantian period. Such fragments of Kant's results as were transplanted to this alien soil could not thrive there and maintained only an artificial existence, thanks to a fancy for the history of philosophy that displaced philosophy itself.

Why is it, asked Kant, that nothing is being done to prevent the "scandal" which, "sooner or later, is sure to become obvious even to the masses, as the result of the disputes in which metaphysicians … without critique inevitably become involved."9

It is manifestly the aim of every science to verify its judgments by reducing them to more general propositions, which themselves must be made certain. We can then proceed from these principles to the erection of the scientific system through logical inference. However difficult this may be in its details, in its essence it is accomplished in all sciences by the same method, that of progressive reasoning. The methodological problems are encountered in every science where the regress from the particular to the general has to be accomplished, where the task is to secure the most fundamental propositions, the most general principles.

The brilliant development of the science of mathematics and its universally acknowledged advance are explained by the fact that its principles—ignoring for the moment the problems of axiomatics—are easily grasped by the consciousness. They are intuitively clear and thus completely evident, so evident that, as Hilbert recently remarked on this same platform, mathematical comprehension can be forced on everyone. The mathematician does not even have to perform the laborious regress to these principles. He is free to start from arbitrarily formed concepts and go on confidently to propositions; in short, he can immediately proceed systematically, and in this sense dogmatically. He can do so because the fact that his concepts lend themselves to construction is a criterion of their reality, a sure indication that his theory does not deal with mere fictions.

The natural sciences, on their part, do not enjoy this advantage. The laws underlying natural phenomena can be uncovered only by induction. But since induction proceeds from the observation of facts, from which accidental elements are eliminated by experimentation; since, moreover, all events in space and in time are susceptible of mathematical calculation; and, finally, since the theoretical generalizations obtained are, as empirical propositions, subject to check by confirmatory or contradictory experience, the natural sciences have, in close relation to mathematics, likewise achieved the ascent to the scientific level. Where this claim is still contested, as in biology, the metaphysical premises within the inductive science are involved. There, to be sure, we find at once the confusion that is encountered whenever we pass into the realm of philosophy.

Philosophy does not rest on principles that are self-evident truths. On the contrary, its principles are the focus of obscurity, uncertainty, and controversy. There is unanimity only with respect to the concrete application of these principles. But the moment we try to disregard the particular instance of application and to isolate the principles from experience, that is, if we try to formulate them in pure abstraction, then our search gets lost in metaphysical darkness unless we illuminate our way by the artificial light of a method.

Under these circumstances one would expect to find interest in the problem of method nowhere so great as among philosophers. It should be noted, however, that the consideration just put forward itself depends on a methodological point of view. It raises, in advance of any philosophical speculation proper, the question of the nature of philosophical cognition; and it is only through this preliminary question that light is shed on the real content of the problems besetting philosophy.

Let us pause here a moment and take a closer look at the concept of the method with which we are concerned. What, precisely, is meant by a method that subjects the thinking of philosophers to its rules? Obviously, it is something other than just the rules of logical thinking. Obedience to the laws of logic is an indispensable precondition of any science. The essential factor distinguishing a method of philosophy can therefore not be found in the fact that it avails itself of logic. That would too narrowly circumscribe the function devolving on it. On the other hand, the demands made on method must not go too far, nor should the impossible be expected of it, namely, the creative increase of philosophical knowledge.

The function to be performed by the philosophical method is nothing other than making secure the contemplated regress to principles, for without the guidance of method, such a regress would be merely a leap in the dark and would leave us where we were before—prey to the arbitrary.

But how to find the clarity requisite for discovering such a guide, since nothing is clear save only judgments relative to individual instances? For these judgments the concrete use of our intelligence, as applied in every empirical judgment in science and in daily life, suffices. Once we go beyond these judgments, how can we orient ourselves at all? The difficulty that seems to be present here is resolved upon critical examination of these empirical judgments. Each of them comprises, in addition to the particular data supplied by observation, a cognition hidden in the very form of the judgment. This cognition, however, is not separately perceived, but by virtue of it we already actually assume and apply the principle we seek.

To give a commonplace illustration: If we were here to discuss the meaning of the philosophical concept of substance, we should most probably become involved in a hopeless dispute, in which the skeptics would very likely soon get the best of it. But if, on the conclusion of our debate, one of the skeptics failed to find his overcoat beside the door where he had hung it, he would hardly reconcile himself to the unfortunate loss of his coat on the ground that it simply confirmed his philosophical doubt of the permanence of substance. Like anyone else hunting for a lost object, the skeptic assumes in the judgment that motivates his search the universal truth that no thing can become nothing, and thus, without being conscious of the inconsistency with his doctrine, he employs the metaphysical principle of the permanence of substance.

Or, suppose we discussed the universal validity of the idea of justice. Our discussion would have the same outcome and once more seem to favor the skeptic who denies the universal validity of ethical truths. When, however, this skeptic reads in his evening paper that farmers are still holding back grain deliveries to exploit a favorable market and that bread will therefore have to be rationed again, he will not readily be disposed to suppress his indignation on the ground that there is no common principle of right applicable to producer and consumer. Like everyone else he condemns profiteering and thereby demonstrates that in fact he acknowledges the metaphysical assumption of equal rights to the satisfaction of interests, regardless of the favorableness or unfavorableness of any individual's personal situation.

It is the same with all experiential judgments. If we inquire into the conditions of their possibility, we come upon more general propositions that constitute the basis of the particular judgments passed. By analyzing conceded judgments we go back to their presuppositions. We operate regressively from the consequences to the reason. In this regression we eliminate the accidental facts to which the particular judgment relates and by this separation bring into relief the originally obscure assumption that lies at the bottom of the judgment on the concrete instance. The regressive method of abstraction, which serves to disclose philosophical principles, produces no new knowledge either of facts or of laws. It merely utilizes reflection to transform into clear concepts what reposed in our reason as an original possession and made itself obscurely heard in every individual judgment.

It seems as though this discussion has carried us far from our real theme, the method of teaching philosophy. Let us then find the connection. We have discovered philosophy to be the sum total of those universal rational truths that become clear only through reflection. To philosophize, then, is simply to isolate these rational truths with our intellect and to express them in general judgments.

What implications does this hold for the teaching of philosophy? When expressed in words, these universal truths will be heard, but it does not necessarily follow that they will be comprehended. We can understand them only when, beginning with their application in our judgments, we then personally undertake the regress to the premises of these empirical judgments and recognize in them our own presuppositions.

It is accordingly impossible to communicate philosophy, the sum total of these philosophical principles, by instruction as we communicate historical facts or even geometrical theorems. The facts of history as such are not objects of insight; they can only be noted.

True, the principles of mathematics are comprehensible, but we gain insight into them without treading the circuitous path of our own creative thinking. They become immediately evident as soon as attention is directed to their content. The mathematics teacher who anticipates his pupil's independent investigation by presenting these principles in lectures does not thereby impair their clarity. In this case the pupil is able to follow even though he does not himself travel the exploratory path to them. To what extent such instruction makes sure that the pupil follows with real comprehension is of course another question.

But to present philosophy in this manner is to treat it as a science of facts that are to be accepted as such. The result is at best a mere history of philosophy. For what the instructor communicates is not philosophical truth itself but merely the fact that he or somebody else considers this or that to be a philosophical truth. In claiming that he is teaching philosophy, he deceives both himself and his students.

The teacher who seriously wishes to impart philosophical insight can aim only at teaching the art of philosophizing. He can do no more than show his students how to undertake, each for himself, the laborious regress that alone affords insight into basic principles. If there is such a thing at all as instruction in philosophy, it can only be instruction in doing one's own thinking; more precisely, in the independent practice of the art of abstraction. The meaning of my initial remark, that the Socratic method, as a method of instruction in philosophy, is the art not of teaching philosophy but of teaching philosophizing, will now become clear. But we have gone further than that. We also know now that, in order to succeed, this art must be guided by the rules of the regressive method.

We have still to examine the subsidiary question, whether this, the only appropriate method of teaching philosophy, is rightfully called the Socratic method. For my earlier references to the significance of Socrates bore only on the fact that his procedure pertained to method.

To begin with, it goes without saying that his way of teaching is full of faults. Every intelligent college freshman reading Plato's dialogues raises the objection that Socrates, at the most decisive points, engages in monologues and that his pupils are scarcely more than yes men—at times, as Fries remarks, one does not even quite see how they arrived at the "yes."10 In addition to these didactic defects, there are grave philosophical errors, so that we often find ourselves concurring in the dissenting opinions of some of the participants.

In order to reach a conclusion concerning truth and error, the valuable and the valueless, let us take another glance at Plato's account. No one has appraised Socrates' manner of teaching and its effect on his pupils with greater objectivity or deeper knowledge of human nature. Whenever the reader is moved to protest against long-windedness or hair splitting in the conversations, against the monotony of the deductions, against the futility of the battle of words, a like protest arises at once from some participant in the dialogue. How openly Plato allows the pupils to voice their displeasure, their doubt, their boredom—just think of the railing of Callicles in the Gorgias.11 He even has conversations breaking off because the patience of the participants is exhausted; and the reader's judgment is by no means always in favor of Socrates. But does this criticism reveal anything except the sovereign assurance with which Plato stands by the method of his teacher for all its shortcomings? Is there any better proof of confidence in the inherent value of a cause than to depict it with all its imperfections, certain that it will nevertheless prevail? Plato's attitude toward his teacher's work is like that displayed toward Socrates, the man, in the well-known oration by Alcibiades in the Symposium. There, by contrasting the uncouth physical appearance of Socrates with his inner nature, he makes his noble personality shine forth with greater radiance and compares him to a silenus who bears within him the mark of the gods.

What, then, is the positive element in the work of Socrates? Where do we find the beginnings of the art of teaching philosophy? Surely not in the mere transition from the rhetoric of the sophists to the dialogue with pupils, even though we ignore the fact that, as I have already indicated, the questions put by Socrates are for the most part leading questions eliciting no more than "Undoubtedly, Socrates!" "Truly, so it is, by Zeus! How could it be otherwise?"

But suppose Socrates' philosophical ardor and his awkwardness had allowed the pupils more self-expression. We should still have to inquire first into the deeper significance of the dialogue in philosophical instruction and into the lessons to be derived from Plato's use of it.

We find dialogue employed as an art form in fiction and drama and as a pedagogic form in instruction. Theoretically these forms are separable but actually we require of every conversation liveliness, clarity, and beauty of expression, as well as espousal of truth, decisiveness, and strength of conviction. Even though the emphasis varies, we like to recognize the teacher in the artist and the artist in the teacher.

We must furthermore distinguish between a conversation reduced to writing—even though it is a reproduction of actual speech—and a real conversation carried on between persons. Conversations that are written down lose their original liveliness, "like the flower in the botanist's case." If, in spite of this, we are to find them satisfactory, the atmosphere must be spiritualized and purified, standards must be raised; and then there may come forth some rare and admirable production as the conversation of the Grand Inquisitor, which is carried on with a silent opponent who by his silence defeats him.

Conversation as a pedagogic form, however, must sound like actual talk; otherwise it does not fulfill its task of being model and guide. To catch, in the mirror of a written reproduction, the fleeting form of such talk with its irregularities, to strike the mean between fidelity to the sense and fidelity to the word—this is a problem that can perhaps be solved didactically; but the solution, serving as it does a definite purpose, will rarely meet the demands of free art and therefore as a whole will nearly always produce a mixed impression. I know of only a few didactic conversations in literature from which this discord has been even partially eliminated. I have in mind, for instance, some passages in the three well-known dialogues by Solovyeff; then there is the Socratic dialogue with which the American socialist writer Bellamy opens his didactic novel, Looking Backward; and finally—by no means the least successful—the conversations in August Niemann's novel, Bakchen und Thyrsostrager, which is imbued with the true Socratic spirit.

To the difficulty just described one must add another, more basic objection, that to reduce the evolving didactic conversation to writing borders on the absurd. For by offering the solution along with the problem, the transcription violates, with respect to the reader, the rule of individual effort and honesty and thus, as Socrates puts it in the Phaedrus, imparts to the novice "the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom."12 Such writing has meaning only for those to whom it recalls their own intellectual efforts. On all others it acts as an obstacle to insight—it seduces them into the naive notion that, as Socrates says further on, "anything in writing will be clear and certain."13 Thus Plato speaks of his own "perplexity and uncertainty"14 in setting down his thoughts in writing.

It does not at all admit of verbal expression.… But were I to undertake this task it would not, as I think, prove a good thing for men, save for some few who are able to discover the truth themselves with but little instruction; for as to the rest, some it would most unseasonably fill with mistaken contempt, and others with an overweening empty aspiration, as though they had learnt some sublime mysteries.15

… Whenever one sees a man's written compositions—whether they be the laws of a legislator or anything else in any other form—these are not his most serious works, if so be that the writer himself is serious: rather those works abide in the fairest region he possesses. If, however, these really are his serious efforts, and put into writing, it is not "the gods" but mortal men who "then of a truth themselves have utterly ruined his senses."16

We must bear this discord in mind as we scrutinize the Platonic dialogue to discover how Socrates accomplished his pedagogic task.

One achievement is universally conceded to him: that by his questioning he leads his pupils to confess their ignorance and thus cuts through the roots of their dogmatism. This result, which indeed cannot be forced in any other way, discloses the significance of the dialogue as an instrument of instruction. The lecture, too, can stimulate spontaneous thinking, particularly in more mature students; but no matter what allure such stimulus may possess, it is not irresistible. Only persistent pressure to speak one's mind, to meet every counterquestion, and to state the reasons for every assertion transforms the power of that allure into an irresistible compulsion. This art of forcing minds to freedom constitutes the first secret of the Socratic method.

But only the first. For it does not take the pupil beyond the abandonment of his prejudices, the realization of his not-knowing, this negative determinant of all genuine and certain knowledge.

Socrates, after this higher level of ignorance is reached, far from directing the discussion toward the metaphysical problems, blocks every attempt of his pupils to push straight on to them with the injunction that they had better first learn about the life of the weavers, the blacksmiths, the carters. In this pattern of the discussion we recognize the philosophical instinct for the only correct method: first to derive the general premises from the observed facts of everyday life, and thus to proceed from judgments of which we are sure to those that are less sure.

It is astonishing how little understood this simple guiding idea of method is even in our own day. Take, for example, the assertion that his use of the affairs of the workaday world as a point of departure exhibits merely the practical interest Socrates took in the moral jolting of his fellow citizens. No, had Socrates been concerned with natural philosophy rather than with ethics, he would still have introduced his ideas in the same way.

We arrive at no better understanding of the Socratic method when we consider the way it works back from particulars to universals as a method of regressive inference, thereby identifying it with the inductive method. Though Aristotle praised him for it, Socrates was not the inventor of the inductive method. Rather, he pursued the path of abstraction, which employs reflection to lift the knowledge we already possess into consciousness. Had Aristotle been correct in his interpretation, we should not be surprised at the failure of Socrates' endeavors. For ethical principles cannot be derived from observed facts.

The truth is that in the execution of his design Socrates does fail. His sense of truth guides him surely through the introduction of the abstraction; but further on so many erroneous methodological ideas intrude that the success of the conversation is almost always frustrated.

In this process of separation from the particulars of experience and in his search for the more universal truths, Socrates concentrates his attention wholly on the general characteristics of concepts as we grasp them and devotes himself to the task of making these concepts explicit by definition. Without concepts, of course, there is no definite comprehension of general rational truths; but the elucidation of concepts and the discussion of their interrelations do not suffice to gain the content of the synthetic truths that are the true object of his quest.

What holds Socrates on his futile course is a mistake that comes to light only in Plato and gives his doctrine of ideas its ambivalent, half-mystic, half-logicizing character. This doctrine assumes that concepts are images of the ideas that constitute ultimate reality. This is why the Socratic-Platonic dialogues see the summit of scientific knowledge in the elucidation of concepts.

It is not difficult for us to discern in retrospect the error that caused philosophy here to stray from the right path, and consequently hindered the elaboration of methods of abstraction requisite for scientific metaphysics. However, it would be beside the point to dwell on the shortcomings of a philosophy that made for the first time an attempt at critical self-analysis. Our present concern is not with its errors or with the incompleteness of its system but with its bold and sure beginnings that opened the road to philosophical truth.

Socrates was the first to combine with confidence in the ability of the human mind to recognize philosophical truth the conviction that this truth is not arrived at through occasional bright ideas or mechanical teaching but that only planned, unremitting, and consistent thinking leads us from darkness into its light. Therein lies Socrates' greatness as a philosopher. His greatness as a pedagogue is based on another innovation: he made his pupils do their own thinking and introduced the interchange of ideas as a safeguard against self-deception.

In the light of this evaluation, the Socratic method, for all its deficiencies, remains the only method for teaching philosophy. Conversely, all philosophical instruction is fruitless if it conflicts with Socrates' basic methodic requirements.

Of course, the development of philosophical knowledge had to free from its entanglement with Platonic mysticism the doctrine of reminiscence, the truth of which constitutes the real and most profound reason for the possibility of and necessity for the Socratic method. This liberation was achieved after two thousand years by the critical philosophies of Kant and Fries. They carried the regressive method of abstraction to completion. Beyond this, they firmly secured the results of abstraction—which as basic principles do not admit of proof but as propositions must nevertheless be verified—by the method of deduction.

In the idea of this deduction—with which only Fries really succeeded—the doctrine of reminiscence experienced its resurrection. It is not too much to say that the Socratic-Platonic concept was thus transmuted from the prophetic-symbolic form, in which it had been confined by the two Greek sages, into the solidly welded and unshakably established form of a science.

Deduction, this master achievement of philosophy, is not easy to explain. If I were to attempt to convey some idea of it, I could not indicate its nature more succinctly than by saying that it is quite literally the instrumentality for carrying out the Socratic design to instruct the ignorant by compelling them to realize that they actually know what they did not know they knew.

Kant and Fries did not pursue the problem of instruction in philosophy beyond some incidental pedagogic observations of a general character. But, thanks to critical philosophy, philosophical science has made such progress in surmounting its inherent methodological difficulties that now the most urgent task of critical philosophy is the revival and furtherance of the Socratic method, especially in its bearing on teaching. Must another two thousand years elapse before a kindred genius appears and rediscovers the ancient truth? Our science requires a continuous succession of trained philosophers, at once independent and well schooled, to avert the danger that critical philosophy may either fall a victim of incomprehension or, though continuing in name, it yet may become petrified into dogmatism.

In view of the importance of this task, we shall do well to pause once more and scrutinize the whole of the difficulty we must face. The exposition of our problem has disclosed the profound relation between critical philosophy and the Socratic method, on the basis of which we determine that the essence of the Socratic method consists in freeing instruction from dogmatism; in other words, in excluding all didactic judgments from instruction. Now we are confronted with the full gravity of the pedagogic problem we are to solve. Consider the question: How is any instruction and therefore any teaching at all possible when every instructive judgment is forbidden? Let us not attempt evasion by assuming that the requirement cannot possibly be meant to go to the extreme of prohibiting an occasional discrect helpful hint from teacher to student. No, there must be an honest choice: either dogmatism or following Socrates. The question then becomes all the more insistent: How is Socratic instruction possible?

Here we actually come up against the basic problem of education, which in its general form points to the question: How is education at all possible? If the end of education is rational self-determination, i.e., a condition in which the individual does not allow his behavior to be determined by outside influences but judges and acts according to his own insight, the question arises: How can we affect a person by outside influences so that he will not permit himself to be affected by outside influences? We must resolve this paradox or abandon the task of education.

The first thing to note is that in nature the human mind is always under external influences and, indeed, that the mind cannot develop without external stimulus. We then are confronted with the still broader question: Is self-determination compatible with the fact that in nature the mind is subject to external influence?

It will help us to clarify our thinking if we distinguish between the two senses in which the term "external influence" is used. It may mean external influence in general or an external determinant. Similarly, in teaching it may mean external stimulation of the mind or molding the mind to the acceptance of outside judgments.

Now, it is clearly no contradiction to hold both that the human mind finds within itself the cognitive source of philosophical truth and that insight into this truth is awakened in the mind by external stimuli. Indeed, the mind requires such external stimulation if the initial obscurity of philosophical truth is to grow into clear knowledge. Within the limits set by these conditions, instruction in philosophy is possible and even necessary if the development of the pupil is to be independent of mere chance.

Philosophical instruction fulfills its task when it systematically weakens the influences that obstruct the growth of philosophical comprehension and reinforces those that promote it. Without going into the question of other relevant influences, let us keep firmly in mind the one that must be excluded unconditionally: the influence that may emanate from the instructor's assertions. If this influence is not eliminated, all labor is vain. The instructor will have done everything possible to forestall the pupil's own judgment by offering him a ready-made judgment.

We are now arrived at a point from which we have a clear view both of the task of the Socratic method and of the possibility of fulfilling it. The rest must be left to the experiment and the degree of conviction it may carry.

But it would be underrating the difficulty presented not to consider what the experiment must call for if from its outcome we are to decide whether or not our goal is attainable. Although I have been taxing your patience for some time, I should render a poor service to our cause, and thus to you too, if I did not engage your attention a while longer to consider the procedure of such an experiment.

There is a danger inherent in the nature of an exacting enterprise, whose success has met with little recognition, and it is this: that the participants in it, once they become involved in its mounting difficulties and unexpected distractions, will repent of their good intentions or at least will begin to think of ways of modifying the method to make it easier. This tendency, springing from purely subjective discomfort, is likely to distort or completely frustrate the object of the undertaking. It is therefore advisable, lest expectations be disappointed, to envisage in advance as clearly as possible the manifold difficulties that will surely arise and, with due appreciation of these difficulties, to set down what will be required of teachers and students.

We must bear in mind that instruction in philosophy is not concerned with heaping solution on solution, nor indeed with establishing results, but solely with learning the method of reaching solutions. If we do this, we shall observe at once that the teacher's proper role cannot be that of a guide keeping his party from wrong paths and accidents. Nor yet is he a guide going in the lead while his party simply follow in the expectation that this will prepare them to find the same path later on by themselves. On the contrary, the essential thing is the skill with which the teacher puts the pupils on their own responsibility at the very beginning by teaching them to go by themselves—although they would not on that account go alone—and by so developing this independence that one day they may be able to venture forth alone, self-guidance having replaced the teacher's supervision.

As to the observations I am about to make, I must beg to be allowed to cull incidental examples from my own long experience as a teacher of philosophy, for unfortunately the experiences of others are not at my disposal.

Let me take up first the requirements imposed on the teacher and then go on to those placed on the pupil. Once a student of mine, endeavoring to reproduce a Socratically conducted exercise, presented a version in which he put the replies now into the teacher's mouth, now into the pupil's. Only my astonished question, "Have you ever heard me say 'yes' or 'no'?" stopped him short. Thrasymachus saw the point more clearly; in Plato's Republic he calls out to Socrates: "Ye gods!.… I knew it … that you would refuse and do anything rather than answer."17 The teacher who follows the Socratic model does not answer. Neither does he question. More precisely, he puts no philosophical questions, and when such questions are addressed to him, he under no circumstances gives the answer sought. Does he then remain silent? We shall see. During such a session we may often hear the despairing appeal to the teacher: "I don't know what it is you want!" Whereupon the teacher replies: "1? I want nothing at all." This certainly does not convey the desired information. What is it, then, that the teacher actually does? He sets the interplay of question and answer going between the students, perhaps by the introductory remark: "Has anyone a question?"

Now, everyone will realize that, as Kant said, "to know what questions may reasonably be asked is already a great and necessary proof of sagacity and insight."18 What about foolish questions, or what if there are no questions at all? Suppose nobody answers?

You see, at the very beginning the difficulty presents itself of getting the students to the point of spontaneous activity, and with it arises the temptation for the teacher to pay out a clue like Ariadne's thread. But the teacher must be firm from the beginning, and especially at the beginning. If a student approaches philosophy without having a single question to put to it, what can we expect in the way of his capacity to persevere in exploring its complex and profound problems?

What should the teacher do if there are no questions? He should wait—until questions come. At most, he should request that in the future, in order to save time, questions be thought over in advance. But he should not, just to save time, save the students the effort of formulating their own questions. If he does, he may for the moment temper their impatience, but only at the cost of nipping in the bud the philosophical impatience we seek to awaken.

Once questions start coming—one by one, hesitantly, good ones and foolish ones—how does the teacher receive them, how does he handle them? He now seems to have easy going since the rule of the Socratic method forbids his answering them. He submits the questions to discussion.

All of them? The appropriate and the inappropriate?

By no means. He ignores all questions uttered in too low a voice. Likewise those that are phrased incoherently. How can difficult ideas be grasped when they are expressed in mutilated language?

Thanks to the extraordinary instruction in the mother tongue given in our schools, over half the questions are thus eliminated. [Nelson refers, of course, to German schools. The reader may judge to what degree this criticism also applies to schools in the United States and England.] As for the rest, many are confused or vague. Sometimes clarification comes with the counterquestion: "Just what do you mean by that?" But very often this will not work because the speaker does not know what he means himself. The work of the discussion group thus tends automatically either to take up the clear, simple questions or to clear up unclear, vague ones first.

We are not so fortunate in the problems of philosophy as we are in the problems of mathematics, which, as Hilbert says, fairly call to us: "Here I am, find the solution!" The philosophical problem is wrapped in obscurity. To be able to come to grips with it by framing clear-cut, searching questions demands many trials and much effort. It will therefore scarcely surprise you to learn that a semester's work in a seminar in ethics yielded nothing except agreement on the fact that the initial question was incongruous. The question was, "Is it not stupid to act morally?"

Of course, the instructor will not submit every incongruous question to such protracted examination. He will seek to advance the discussion through his own appraisal of the questions. But he will do no more than allow a certain question to come to the fore because it is instructive in itself or because threshing it out will bring to light typical errors. And he will do this by some such expedient as following the question up with the query: "Who understood what was said just now?" This contains no indication of the relevance or irrelevance of the question; it is merely an invitation to consider it, to extract its meaning by intensive cross-examination.

What is his policy as regards the answers? How are they handled? They are treated like the questions. Unintelligible answers are ignored in order to teach the students to meet the requirements of scientific speech. Answers, too, are probed through such questions as:

"What has this answer to do with our question?"

"Which word do you wish to emphasize?"

"Who has been following?"

"Do you still know what you said a few moments ago?"

"What question are we talking about?"

The simpler these questions, the more flustered the students become. Then, if some fellow student takes pity on his colleague's distress and comes to his aid with the explanation, "He surely wanted to say …" this helpful gesture is unfeelingly cut short with the request to let the art of mind reading alone and cultivate instead the more modest art of saying what one actually wants to say.

By this time you will have gathered that the investigations run a far from even course. Questions and answers tumble over one another. Some of the students understand the development, some do not. The latter cut in with groping questions, trying to reestablish contact, but the others will not be stopped from going ahead. They disregard the interruptions. New questions crop up, wider of the mark. Here and there a debater falls silent; then whole groups. Meanwhile, the agitation continues, and questions become constantly more pointless. Even those who were originally sure of their ground become confused. They, too, lose the thread and do not know how to find it again. Finally, nobody knows where the discussion is headed.

The bewilderment famed in the Socratic circle closes in. Everyone is at his wit's end. What had been certain at the outset has become uncertain. The students, instead of clarifying their own conceptions, now feel as though they had been robbed of their capacity to make anything clear by thinking.

And does the teacher tolerate this too?

"I consider," says Meno to his teacher Socrates, in the dialogue bearing his name, "that both in appearance and in other respects you are extremely like the flat torpedo fish; for it benumbs anyone who approaches and touches it.… For in truth I feel my soul and my tongue quite benumbed and I am at a loss what answer to give you."19

When Socrates replies, "It is from being in more doubt than anyone else that I cause doubts in others," Meno counters with the celebrated question: "Why, on what lines will you look, Socrates, for a thing of whose nature you know nothing at all?" And this draws from Socrates the more celebrated answer: "Because the soul should be able to recollect all that she knew before."20 We all know that these words are an echo of the Platonic doctrine of ideas, which the historic Socrates did not teach. Yet there is in them the Socratic spirit, the stout spirit of reason's self-confidence, its reverence for its own self-sufficient strength. This strength gives Socrates the composure that permits him to let the seekers after truth go astray and stumble. More than that, it gives him the courage to send them astray in order to test their convictions, to separate knowledge simply taken over from the truth that slowly attains clarity in us through our own reflection. He is unafraid of the confession of not-knowing; indeed, he even induces it. In this he is guided by an attitude of thinking so far from skeptical that he regards this admission as the first step toward deeper knowledge. "He does not think he knows … and is he not better off in respect of the matter which he did not know?" he says of the slave to whom he gives instruction in mathematics. "For now he will push on in the search gladly, as lacking knowledge."21

To Socrates the test of whether a man loves wisdom is whether he welcomes his ignorance in order to attain to better knowledge. The slave in the Meno does this and goes on with the task. Many, however, slacken and tire of the effort when they find their knowledge belittled, when they find that their first few unaided steps do not get them far. The teacher of philosophy who lacks the courage to put his pupils to the test of perplexity and discouragement not only deprives them of the opportunity to develop the endurance needed for research but also deludes them concerning their capabilities and makes them dishonest with themselves.

Now we can discern one of the sources of error that provoke the familiar unjust criticisms of the Socratic method. This method is charged with a defect which it merely reveals and which it must reveal to prepare the ground on which alone the continuation of serious work is possible. It simply uncovers the harm that has been done to men's minds by dogmatic teaching.

Is it a fault of the Socratic method that it must take time for such elementary matters as ascertaining what question is being discussed or determining what the speaker intended to say about it? It is easy for dogmatic instruction to soar into higher regions. Indifferent to self-understanding, it purchases its illusory success at the cost of more and more deeply rooted dishonesty. It is not surprising, then, that the Socratic method is compelled to fight a desperate battle for integrity of thought and speech before it can turn to larger tasks. It must also suffer the additional reproach of being unphilosophical enough to orient itself by means of examples and facts.

The only way one can learn to recognize and avoid the pitfalls of reflection is to become acquainted with them in application, even at the risk of gaining wisdom only by sad experience. It is useless to preface philosophizing proper with an introductory course in logic in the hope of thus saving the novice from the risk of taking the wrong path. Knowledge of the principles of logic and the rules of the syllogism, even the ability to illustrate every fallacy by examples, remains after all an art in abstracto. An individual is far from learning to think logically even though he has learned to conclude by all the syllogistic rules that Caius is mortal. The test of one's own conclusions and their subjection to the rules of logic is the province of one's faculty of judgment, not at all the province of logic. The faculty of judgment, said Kant, being the power of rightly employing given rules, "must belong to the learner himself; and in the absence of such a natural gift no rule that may be prescribed to him for this purpose can ensure against misuse."22 If, therefore, this natural gift is weak, it must be strengthened. But it can be strengthened only by exercise.

Thus, after our instructor breaks the spell of numbness by calling for a return to the original question, and the students trace their way back to the point from which they started, each must, by critical examination of every one of his steps, study the sources of error and work out for himself his own school of logic. Rules of logic derived from personal experience retain a living relation with the judgments they are to govern. Furthermore, the fact that dialectics, though indispensable, is introduced as an auxiliary only prevents attaching an exaggerated value to it in the manner of scholasticism, to which the most trivial metaphysical problem served for the exercise of logical ingenuity. Segregation of the philosophical disciplines with a view to reducing the difficulties of instruction by separate treatment would be worse than a waste of time. Other ways will have to be found to satisfy the pedagogic maxim that our requirements of the pupil should become progressively more stringent.

This question, if examined carefully, presents no further difficulties for us. If there is such a thing as a research method for philosophy, its essential element must consist of practical directives for the step-by-step solution of problems. It is therefore simply a question of letting the student himself follow the path of the regressive method. The first step, obviously, is to have him secure a firm footing in experience—which is harder to do than an outsider might think. For your adept in philosophy scorns nothing so much as using his intelligence concretely in forming judgments on real facts, an operation that obliges him to remember those lowly instruments of cognition, his five senses. Ask anyone at a philosophy seminar, "What do you see on the blackboard?" and depend on it, he will look at the floor. Upon your repeating, "What do you see on the blackboard?" he will finally wrench out a sentence that begins with "If and demonstrates that for him the world of facts does not exist.

He shows the same disdain for reality when asked to give an example. Forthwith he goes off into a world of fantasy or, if forced to stay on this planet, he at least makes off to the sea or into the desert, so that one wonders whether being attacked by lions and saved from drowning are typical experiences among the acquaintances of a philosopher. The "if sentences, the far-fetched examples, and the premature desire for definitions characterize not the ingenuous beginner but rather the philosophically indoctrinated dilettante. And it is always he, with his pseudowisdom, who disturbs the quiet and simple progress of an investigation.

I recall a seminar in logic, in which the desire to start from general definitions—under the impression that otherwise the concepts being discussed could not be employed—caused much fruitless trouble. Despite my warning, the group stuck to the opening question: "What is a concept?"

It was not long before a casual reference to the concept "lamp" as an example was followed by the appearance of the "lamp in general" provided with all the essential characteristics of all particular lamps. The students waxed warm in vehement dispute regarding the proof of the existence of this lamp furnished with all the essential features of all particular lamps. My diffident question, whether the lamp-in-general was fed with gas, electricity, or kerosene, went unanswered as unworthy of philosophical debate until, hours later, the resumption of this very question of the source of energy forced the negation of the existence of the lamp-in-general. That is to say, the disputants discovered that different illuminants for one and the same lamp, be it ever so general, were mutually exclusive. Thus, starting with practical application, they had unexpectedly found the law of contradiction by the regressive method. But to define the concept of a concept had proved a vain endeavor; just as in the Socratic circle the definitions nearly always miscarried.

Are we justified, however, in assuming that the cause of such failures always lies in conditions unconnected with the Socratic method itself? Does not this method perhaps suffer from an inherent limitation that makes the solution of deeper problems impossible?

Before coming to a final decision on this point, we must consider one more factor that creates difficulty in the employment of the Socratic method. Though intimately associated with the latter, it lies outside it, yet demands consideration before we can set the limits of the method itself.

The significance of the Socratic dialogue has been sought in the assumption that deliberating with others makes us more easily cognizant of truth than silent reflection. Obviously, there is much soundness in this view. Yet many a person may be moved to doubt this praise after he has listened to the hodgepodge of questions and answers at a philosophical debate and noted the absence, despite the outward discipline, of the tranquillity that belongs to reflection. It is inevitable that what is said by one participant may prove disturbing to another, whether he feels himself placed in a dependent position by intelligent remarks or is distracted by poor ones. It is inevitable that collaboration should progressively become a trial of nerves, made more difficult by increasing demands on personal tact and tolerance.

To a great extent these disturbances can be obviated by an instructor who, for instance, will ignore the innumerable senseless answers, cast doubt on the right ones with Socratic irony, or ease nervous unrest with some understanding word. But his power to restore harmony to the play of ideas is limited unless the others are willing to pursue the common task with determination.

It should be admitted that many disturbances are unavoidable because of the students' imperfect understanding; but the obstacles I have in mind do not lie in the intellectual sphere and for that reason even the most skillful teacher finds them an insurmountable barrier. He can enforce intellectual discipline only if the students are possessed of a disciplined will. This may sound strange but it is a fact that one becomes a philosopher, not by virtue of intellectual gifts but by the exercise of will.

True, philosophizing demands considerable power of intellect. But who will exercise it? Surely not the man who relies merely on his intellectual power. As he delves more deeply into his studies and his difficulties multiply, he will without fail weaken. Because of his intelligence he will recognize these difficulties, even see them very clearly. But the elasticity required to face a problem again and again, to stay with it until it is solved, and not to succumb to disintegrating doubt—this elasticity is achieved only through the power of an iron will, a power of which the entertaining ingenuity of the mere sophist knows nothing. In the end, his intellectual fireworks are as sterile for science as the intellectual dullness that shrinks back at the first obstacle. It is no accident that the investigators whom the history of philosophy records as having made the most decisive advances in dialectics were at the same time philosophers in the original meaning of the word. Only because they loved wisdom were they able to take upon themselves the "many preliminary subjects it entails and [so] much labor," as Plato says in a letter that continues:

For on hearing this, if the pupil be truly philosophical, in sympathy with the subject and worthy of it, because divinely gifted, he believes that he has been shown a marvelous pathway and that he must brace himself at once to follow it, and that life will not be worth living if he does otherwise.…

Those, on the other hand, who are in reality not philosophical, but superficially tinged with opinions—like men whose bodies are sunburnt on the surface—when they see how many studies are required and how great labor, and how the disciplined mode of daily life is that which benefits the subject, they deem it difficult or impossible for themselves.23

That is the clear and most definite characteristic of "those who are luxurious and incapable of enduring labor, since [the test] prevents any of them from ever casting the blame on his instructor instead of on himself and his own inability to pursue all the studies which are necessary to his subject."23

"In one word, neither receptivity nor memory will ever produce knowledge in him who has no affinity with the object, since it does not germinate to start with in alien states of mind."24

We, in common with Plato, require of the philosopher that he strengthen his will power, but it is impossible to achieve this as a by-product in the course of philosophical instruction. The student's will power must be the fruit of his prior education. It is the instructor's duty to make no concession in maintaining the rigorous and indispensable demands on the will; indeed, he must do so out of respect for the students themselves. If, for the want of requisite firmness, he allows himself to be persuaded to relax his stand, or if he does so of his own accord to hold his following, he will have betrayed his philosophical goal. He has no alternative: he must insist on his demands or give up the task. Everything else is abject compromise.

Of course, the student should know the details of the demands to be made on his will. They constitute the minimum required for examining ideas in a group. This means, first, the communication of thoughts, not of acquired fragments of knowledge, not even the knowledge of other people's thoughts. It means, further, the use of clear, unambiguous language. Only the compulsion to communicate provides a means of testing the definiteness and clarity of one's own conceptions. Here, protesting that one has the right feeling but cannot express it will not avail. Feeling is indeed the first and best guide on the path to truth, but it is just as often the protector of prejudice. In a scientific matter, therefore, feeling must be interpreted so that it may be evaluated in accordance with concepts and ordered logic. Moreover, our investigation demands the communication of ideas in distinctly audible and generally comprehensible speech, free from ambiguities. A technical terminology is not only unnecessary for philosophizing but is actually detrimental to its steady progress. It imparts to metaphysical matters, abstract and difficult in any case, the appearance of an esoteric science, which only superior minds are qualified to penetrate. It prevents us from considering the conclusions of unprejudiced judgment, which we have seen to be the starting point of meaningful philosophizing. Unprejudiced judgment, in its operation, relies on concepts that we have, not on artificial reflections, and it makes its conclusions understood by strict adherence to current linguistic usage.

In order to grasp those concepts clearly it is necessary, of course, to isolate them. By the process of abstraction it is possible to separate them from other ideas, to reduce them gradually to their elements, and through such analyses to advance to basic concepts. By holding fast to existing concepts, the philosopher guards himself against peopling his future system with the products of mere speculation and with fantastic brain children. For, if he does not consult unprejudiced judgment, he will allow himself to be lured into forming philosophical concepts by the arbitrary combination of specific characteristics, without any assurance that objects corresponding to his constructions actually exist. Only the use of the same vocabulary still connects him with the critical philosopher. He denotes his artificial concept by the same word the critical philosopher uses to denote his real concept, although, to be sure, he uses this word in a different sense. He says "I" and means "cosmic reason." He says "God" and means "peace of mind." He says "state" and means "power subject to no law." He says "marriage" and means "indissoluble communion of love." He says "space" and means "the labyrinth of the ear." His language is full of artificial meanings. Although it is not apparent, his is actually a technical language; and because this is so, the situation is far more dangerous than it would be if the philosopher indicated the special sense of his language by coining specific new terms. For the sameness of the words tricks the unwary into associating their own familiar concepts with them, and a misunderstanding results. What is more pernicious, this artificial language tempts its own creator to the covert use of the same words in different meanings, and by such a shift of concepts he produces sham proofs. In this abuse of purely verbal definitions we encounter one of the most prevalent and profound of dialectical errors, an error that is rendered more difficult to track down by the fact that the shift of concepts cannot be discovered simply by calling on intuition. However, it betrays itself through its consequences, through the curious phenomenon that with the help of the same verbal definition the pseudoproof presented can be confronted with a contrary proof that has the same air of validity.

The most celebrated and memorable instance of such antitheses is found in the antinomies that Kant discovered and solved. Kant said of these classic examples of contradiction that they were the most beneficent aberration in the history of reason because they furnished the incentive to investigate the cause of the illusion and to reconcile reason to itself. This remark is applicable to every instance of such dialectical conflict.

It will seem, perhaps, that in these last considerations we have strayed somewhat from our subject: the requirement that the student use distinctly audible and generally comprehensible language. But, as a matter of fact, we have secured a deeper understanding of the significance of that requirement.

After all that we have said, what is it that we gain with this demand on the pupil? Only those who, by using comprehensible language, adhere to the concepts we have and become practiced in discussing them will sharpen their critical sense for every arbitrary definition and for every sham proof adroitly derived from such verbal definition. If the requirement of simple and clear language is observed, it is possible, in Socratic teaching, merely by writing the theses of two mutually contradictory doctrines on the blackboard, to focus attention on the verbal definition underlying them, disclose its abuse, and thereby overthrow both doctrinal opinions. The success of such a dialectical performance is achieved—and this is its significant feature—not by flashes of inspiration but methodically, i.e., through a step-by-step search for the hidden premise at the bottom of the contradictory judgments. This method will succeed if the student, struck with suspicion at such a sophism, attends closely to the meaning of the words, for these words, when used in an in-artificial sense, put him on the track of the error.

Do not misunderstand me. I do not advocate the point of view that so-called common sense and its language can satisfy the demands of scientific philosophizing. Nor is it my purpose, in dwelling on simple elementary conditions seemingly easy to fulfill, to veil the fact that the pursuit of philosophizing requires rigorous training in the art of abstraction, one difficult to master. My point is this: We cannot with impunity skip the first steps in the development of this art. Abstraction must have something to abstract from. The immediate and tangible material of philosophy is language which presents concepts through words. In its wealth, supplied from many sources, reason dwells concealed. Reflection discloses this rational knowledge by separating it from intuitive notions.

Just as Socrates took pains to question locksmiths and blacksmiths and made their activities the first subject of discussion with his pupils, so every philosopher ought to start out with the vernacular and develop the language of his abstract science from its pure elements.

I am now done with the requirements that apply to the students. Their difficulty lies not in the fulfillment of details but in the observance of the whole. I said earlier that the working agreement with the students requires of them nothing but the communication of their ideas. You will understand if I now express the same demand in another form: It requires of the students submission to the method of philosophizing, for it is the sole aim of Socratic instruction to enable the students to judge for themselves their observance of the agreement.

Our examination of the Socratic method is nearing its conclusion. Now that we have discussed the difficulties of its application, there remains only one query: May not the reason for the unfavorable reception of the method lie, in part at least, within itself? Is there not perhaps some limitation inherent in it that restricts its usefulness?

One singular fact, more than any other, is calculated to make us consider this doubt seriously. Fries, the one man who actually completed critical philosophy and restored the Socratic-Platonic doctrine of reminiscence and the self-certainty of intelligence, Fries, the most genuine of all Socrateans, gave the Socratic method only qualified recognition because he considered it inadequate for achieving complete self-examination of the intellect. He acknowledged its capacity to guide the novice in the early stages; he even demanded emphatically that all instruction in philosophy follow the spirit of the Socratic method, the essence of which, he held, lay not in its use of dialogue but in its "starting from the common things of everyday life and only then going on from these to scientific views."25 "But as soon as higher truths, further removed from intuition and everyday experience, are involved,"26 Fries did not approve of letting the students find these truths by themselves. "Here the instructor must employ a language molded upon subtle abstractions, of which the student does not yet have complete command, and to which he must be educated by instruction."27

In Fries's own words, this lecture method of instruction "step by step invites cooperative thinking."28 An illustration of it is given in his didactic novel, Julius und Evagoras. And indeed it is not a form of Socratic instruction.

I should not think of choosing a really successful dialogue of Plato's—were there such—as subject matter for a philosophy seminar as it would forestall the creative thinking of the students, but there is nothing in Julius und Evagoras to preclude its use for such a purpose. For the development of abstract ideas which it presents to the reader does indeed "invite" critical verification by the students, as Fries desires. However, though otherwise exemplary, it offers no assurance that the students will accept the invitation or, if made to stand on their own feet, that they will master such difficulties as they may encounter on their way. Have your students study the fine and instructive chapter on "The Sources of Certainty," and I stand ready to demonstrate in a Socratic discussion that those students will still lack everything that would enable them to defend what they have learned. The key to this riddle is to be found in Goethe's words: "One sees only what one already knows."

It is futile to lay a sound, clear, and well-grounded theory before the students; futile though they respond to the invitation to follow in their thinking. It is even useless to point out to them the difficulties they would have to overcome in order to work out such results independently. If they are to become independent masters of philosophical theory, it is imperative that they go beyond the mere learning of problems and their difficulties; they must wrestle with them in constant practical application so that, through day-by-day dealing with them, they may learn to overcome them with all their snares and pitfalls and diversities of form. However, the instructor's lecture that Fries would have delivered "in language molded upon subtle abstractions," just because of its definiteness and clearness, will obscure the difficulties that hamper the development of this very lucidity of thought and verbal precision. The outcome will be that in the end only those already expert in Socratic thinking will assimilate the philosophical substance and appreciate the solidness and originality of the exposition.

Fries underrated the Socratic method because, for one thing, he did not and could not find the Socratic method in the method of Socrates, and he considered this fact as confirming his opinion of the inadequacy of the Socratic method. Another reason—and the more profound, I think—lay in the particular character of Fries's genius. He combined with a sense of truth unparalleled in the history of philosophy a linguistic gift that produced with the assurance of a somnambulist the words that were most appropriate to a philosophical idea. A man with a mind so superior, rich, and free will always find it difficult to maintain close contact with the minds of less independent thinkers. He is prone to overlook the danger of dogmatism that threatens the more dependent mind even when the instructor's lecture has reached the highest degree of lucidity and exactitude of expression. A man of such superiority can become a leader of generations of men. But this is contingent on the appearance of teachers who will find the key to his language by resorting to the "maieutic" services [Maieutic: "The word means performing midwife's service (to thought or ideas); Socrates figured himself as a midwife (maia) bringing others' thoughts to birth with his questionings; …" (H. D. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage [New York, 1944], p. 339.) …] of the Socratic method, instituting the laborious and protracted exercises that must not frighten away those who plan to dedicate themselves to philosophy.

I maintain that this art has no limitations. I have seen a Socratic seminar not only deal successfully with such an abstract subject as the philosophy of law but even proceed to the construction of its system.

This is claiming a good deal, you will say. Well, I have enough Socratic irony to acknowledge the awkwardness of my position, which, incidentally, I admitted in the opening sentence of my address. For when all is said and done, no one will be won over to the cause I am pleading here except by the evidence of the experiment, that is, through his own experience.

But let us look about us: Can we not find some sufficiently simple and well-known control experiment that permits a valid conclusion on the question at issue? What sort of experiment might that be? If non-Socratically conducted instruction could accomplish the designated end in philosophy, such a procedure should succeed all the more readily in a science that does not have to struggle with the particular difficulties of philosophical knowledge—a science in which, on the contrary, everything from first to last becomes absolutely and completely clear even when set forth in a dogmatic lecture.

If we inquire whether there is such a science and, if so, whether it has a place among the subjects of instruction in our schools and universities, we find that such a science actually does exist. Mathematics satisfies both conditions. "We are in possession," said a classic French mathematician. The relevant experiment is thus available, and we need only consider its outcome with an unprejudiced mind.

What does it teach? Just among ourselves and without glossing over anything or blaming anyone, we teachers might as well confess to what is a public secret: on the whole the result is negative. We all know from personal experience that diligent and even gifted students in our secondary schools and colleges, if seriously put to the test, are not sure of even the rudiments of mathematics and discover their own ignorance.

Our experiment therefore points to the conclusion I spoke of; as a matter of fact, there is no escaping it. Suppose someone were to say there is no such thing as understanding, regardless of the kind of instruction. That is arguable, but not for us as pedagogues. We start from the assumption that meaningful instruction is possible. And then we must come to the conclusion that, if there is any assurance that a subject can be understood, Socratic instruction offers such assurance. And with that we have found more than we sought, for this conclusion applies not only to philosophy but to every subject that involves comprehension.

An experiment conducted by history itself on a grand scale confirms the fact that the pedagogic inadequacy in the field of mathematics is not due merely to incompetent teachers but must have a more fundamental cause; or, to put it differently, that even the best mathematics instruction, if it follows the dogmatic method, cannot, despite all its clearness, bring about thorough understanding. This experiment deserves the attention of everyone interested in the teaching of mathematics.

The basic principles of calculus (nowadays included in the curricula of some of our high schools) became the secure and acknowledged possession of science only about the middle of the nineteenth century, when they were first established with clarity and exactitude. Although the most important results had been a matter of general knowledge ever since Newton and Leibniz, their foundations remained in dispute. Endlessly repeated attempts at elucidation only resulted in new obscurities and paradoxes. Considering the state of this branch of mathematics at that time, Berkeley was not unjustified when he undertook to prove that in the unintelligibility of its theories it was not one whit behind the dogmas and mysteries of theology.29 We know today that those riddles were solvable, that, thanks to the work of Cauchy and Weierstrass, they have been solved, and that this branch of mathematics is susceptible of the same clarity and lucidity of structure as elementary geometry. Here, too, everything becomes evident as soon as attention is focused on the decisive point. But it is precisely this that is hard to achieve, an art each student must acquire by his own efforts.

To demonstrate how true this is, I shall mention two especially noteworthy facts. The first is this: Newton's treatise, widely known and celebrated since its appearance, not only expounds the decisive point of view established by Cauchy and Weierstrass but formulates it with a clarity, precision, and succinctness that would satisfy the most exacting requirements contemporary science could lay down. Moreover, it contains an explicit warning against that very misunderstanding which, as we now know, kept succeeding generations of mathematicians so completely in bondage that their minds remained closed to the emphatic "Cave!" of the classic passage in Newton's work,30 familiar to all of them.

The second, the complement, as it were, of the first, is that, even after Weierstrass and after the argument had at long last been settled, it was possible to revive it not only among dilettanti, whom we shall always have with us, but even under the leadership of a man of research as distinguished for his work on the theory of functions as Paul du Bois-Reymond. In his own words, his "solution is that it remains and will remain a riddle."31

There is an impressive warning in this instance of the disparity between the objective lucidity and systematic completeness of a scientific theory, on the one hand, and any pedagogic assurance that it will be understood, on the other. It is precisely the man with a philosophical turn of mind who is unwilling, in mathematics as elsewhere, simply to accept a result; he philosophizes about it, i.e., he strives to understand its fundamentals and bring it into harmony with the rest of his knowledge. But it is just he who is sure to fail unless he is one of the few who find their way to clarity by their own efforts. We thus discover that even mathematics, instead of remaining the unassailable standard and model that might help philosophy, is drawn along by it into the whirlpool of confusion.

Herewith, I believe, I have also answered the weightiest comment I know on the value of the Socratic method in teaching mathematics. It comes from no less a man than Weierstrass. He devoted a special essay to the Socratic method,32 an indication of the esteem and comprehension this profound mathematician and pedagogue had for our subject. His detailed argument is proof of this. He demonstrated the basic practicability of the Socratic method in philosophy and pure mathematics, in contradistinction to the empirical sciences. That he nevertheless rated it as of little value for use in the school was due, for one thing, to the fact that he considered insurmountable the external difficulties which undeniably exist, and which I have dwelt on extensively. For another, he was obviously partial to the coherent lecture with its large perspectives and architectonic beauty of structure, a partiality easily understandable in a scientist of his genius. Still, he admitted that such a lecture "presupposes students of rather more mature intelligence, if it is to be effective." Since, however, it was also his opinion that "the Socratic method, carried out in its true spirit, … is less suitable for boys than for more mature youths," one is impelled to ask (but in vain) how the maturity of mind can develop that will assure success to a non-Socratic mode of instruction.

What maturity of mind our students must have if they are to surpass Paul du Bois-Reymond, the pupil of Weierstrass, and Euler, the pupil of Newton, in depth of understanding!

Our findings might lead us to pessimism. But, if we view the matter rightly, we are not yet finished. What we have found actually indicates the way we can remove the cause of this lamentable state of affairs, which itself can hardly be regarded pessimistically enough.

The way lies in mathematics. It is within the power of the mathematicians to end the scandal that not only has completely undermined the authority of philosophy but also threatens mathematics itself with the loss of the prestige that, thanks to its powerful position in education, it has until now maintained in the intellectual life of mankind. In view of the deplorable situation in which the cause of the Socratic method finds itself, help can come only through a science that combines the several advantages I have discussed, advantages that only mathematics has and that assure it a head start which philosophy can never overcome by its own efforts.

The character and repute of mathematics as a science still stand quite firm. In the long run, the evidence of its results cannot be obscured by any teaching, however wretched, and it will always offer a means of orientation though all else be plunged into darkness and confusion. I therefore appeal to the mathematicians. May they become aware of the spiritual power they hold and of their consequent mission of leadership in the fields of science and education. Philosophy cannot now assume the role, originally hers, of guardian of the intellectual values whose fate is bound up with that of the Socratic method. Having disowned her stepchild and thus deprived herself of its vitalizing and rejuvenating influence, philosophy has become so infirm that she must now beg of her sister science asylum and aid for her cast-off daughter.

Though I said at the beginning that a sense of chivalry has made me champion of the disdained one, I am nevertheless far from blind to my powerlessness. I can fulfill this command of chivalry only by commending my protegee to the care of mathematics—confident that the outcast will be nurtured by it and grow vigorously until, her strength renewed, she returns to her own home and there establishes law and order, thus requiting with good the evil done her.


1 Plato, Epistles, R. G. Bury, tr., in Loeb Classical Library (London, New York, 1929), VII, 531.

2 Wilhelm Windelband, Praludien (Freiburg and Tubingen, 1884), p. 9.

3 Windelband, Praludien, p. vi.

4 Plato, Apology, H. N. Fowler, tr., in Loeb Classical Library (London, New York, 1913), 1, 109.

5 Karl Joel, Geschichte der antiken Philosophie (Tiubingen, 1921), p. 770.

6 Heinrich Maier, Sokrates (TCibingen, 1913), p. 157.

7 Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Platon (Berlin, 1919), 1, 108.

8 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Norman Kemp Smith, tr. (London, New York, 1933), p. 25.

9 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, pp. 31-32. [Translation revised by T. K. B.]

10 J. F. Fries, Die Geschichte der Philosophie (Halle, 1837), 1, 253.

11 Plato, Gorgias, W. R. M. Lamb, tr., in Loeb Classical Library (London, New York, 1926), V, 381-395.

12 Plato, Phaedrus, H. N. Fowler, tr., in Loeb Classical Library (London, New York, 1913), I, 563.

13Ibid., p. 565.

14 Plato, Epistles, p. 537.

15Ibid., pp. 531-533.

16 Plato, Epistles, p. 541.

17 Plato, The Republic, Paul Shorey, tr., in Loeb Classical Library (London, New York), p. 41.

18 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason. p. 97.

19 Plato, Meno, W. R. M. Lamb, tr., in Loeb Classical Library (London, New York, 1924), IV, 297.

20Ibid., pp. 299 ff.

21 Plato, Meno, p. 313.

22 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, p. 178.

23 Plato, Epistles, pp. 527 ff.

24 Plato, Epistles, p. 539.

25 J. F. Fries, System der Logik (3d ed., reissued, Leipzig, 1914), p. 449.

26 Fries, Die Geschichte der Philosophie, 1, 253.

27 Fries, System der Logik, p. 436.


29 George Berkeley, The Analyst, or a Discourse Addressed to an Infidel Mathematician, Wherein It Is Examined Whether the Object, Principles, and Inferences of the Modern Analysis Are More Distinctly Conceived, or More Evidently Deduced, Than Religious Mysteries and Points of Faith. Selected Pamphlets, Vol. XVI (London, 1734).

30 Isaac Newton, Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (1687), Liber primus, scholium.

31 Paul du Bois-Reymond, Die allgemeine Funktionentheorie (Ttibingen, 1882), Pt. 1, p. 2.

32 Karl Weierstrass, Mathematische Werke (Berlin, 1903), III, Appendix, 315-329.

A. K. Rogers (essay date 1925)

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SOURCE: "The Ethics of Socrates," in The Philosophical Review, Vol. XXXVI, No. 200, March, 1925, pp. 117-43.

[After reviewing the arguments for and against Xenophon and Plato as accurate sources of Socratic philosophy, Rogers argues that Plato provides sufficient evidence that Socrates's teaching focused on the proposition that "virtue is knowledge." Rogers then examines the meaning and significance of this statement.]

The beginnings of ethics as a branch of human science it has been customary to trace to Socrates; and while any point of departure is bound to be arbitrary to some extent, since written history does not record a time when men showed no tendency whatever to reflect on the problems of conduct, there are good reasons for the usual procedure. It is true, at least, that it was Socrates who inspired the first efforts to think systematically about the moral life in a form that had historical continuity and a pervading influence upon all subsequent speculation.

Unfortunately, however, when we come to settle accounts with the available evidence, the features of the historical Socrates and the character of the services which he performed to ethical thought are left exceedingly uncertain and obscure. There is an abundance of testimony such as it is; only the testimony does not hang together. Our two main authorities are Xenophon and Plato; and a colorless description may indeed be framed on which the two agree. It is safe to take for granted that Socrates was a man who exerted a large influence upon the life of his day through notable personal qualities; that he was conspicuously self-controlled and temperate in character, and fearless in his speech and conduct; that he devoted himself not to politics but to private conversation and debate, in which he showed a keen and powerful mind, and a moral insight, that attracted the younger men in particular; and that it was problems of conduct that interested him rather than the scientific speculations that hitherto had chiefly engaged Greek thinkers. But when any attempt is made to clothe with flesh and blood these very general and abstract statements, it becomes at once apparent that, as concrete personalities, the Socrates of Plato and the Socrates of Xenophon are very far apart. Most readers have, or think they have, a clear and fairly consistent picture of the man. But the picture comes from Plato, whose gifts as an artist have fixed what probably will always be in the popular mind the Socratic type; and if Plato has created what to any appreciable extent is a fancy portrait, a question at once arises about our right to accept any features of this portrait in particular. Accordingly it becomes quite necessary to start with an attempt to evaluate the main sources from which our knowledge of Socrates is derived.

No one would be inclined to dispute that, of the two, Plato is the more capable witness if only we can rely upon his good faith. He was better acquainted with Socrates personally and with Socrates' most intimate friends; and he was far and away the more competent philosophical mind. Nevertheless it has been Xenophon's testimony that the majority of modern scholars have preferred. Few of them, indeed, have been thoroughgoing in this preference; they have borrowed traits from Plato whenever it has suited their convenience, without any too great a regard for consistency at times. But so far at any rate as Socrates' peculiar contribution to ethics is concerned—if in this form it can still be called a contribution—Xenophon rather than Plato has been taken as the more reliable witness.

The reason for this preference in general—apart from a belief that it is borne out by the very scanty evidence that Aristotle supplies—is the fact that Plato is felt to be quite capable of creating the character of Socrates out of whole cloth; and, if we do thus take the Platonic Socrates as a figure so highly idealized as to become to all intents and purposes a character of fiction, the discrepancies will of course have found a solution. It is the easier to suppose this in that everybody admits that Plato's dialogues cannot by any chance be regarded as literal reports, but are, to some extent at least, artistic constructions; and in the later dialogues, at any rate, he unquestionably does attribute things to Socrates that go beyond all historical probability. And along with this goes the less legitimate reason that critics have plainly often been overimpressed by the matter-of-factness of Xenophon's account, and have assumed too readily that, as between commonplaceness and artistic distinction, the former is more likely to be closer to the facts.

There seems, however, no apparent reason why a spirit of caution should be abandoned when we pass from Plato to Xenophon. To begin with, if Plato is an artist, Xenophon is confessedly an apologist. It is not historical truth at which he is aiming first of all. He is an advocate, concerned to clear the name of Socrates of the charge of being an irreligious and immoral influence in the state; and, with a pious purpose such as this, a writer not only is not bound to be overscrupulous about strict accuracy, but is really under obligations to tidy up his material somewhat. And, as a matter of fact, it is difficult to see how one is to escape the conclusion that Xenophon, no more than Plato, can be trusted for bringing us into contact with the actual words that Socrates uttered. That he had reminiscences to draw upon is probable. But that he should have been able to report with anything like literalness the many long speeches which he retails is in the nature of things altogether unlikely, especially when we remember that it was a recognized convention for historical writers to put speeches into the mouths of their characters.

It is worth noting that there are two distinct methods which Xenophon adopts. On the one hand, there are brief sayings of Socrates, brief historical anecdotes, and brief statements by Xenophon himself that Socrates held such and such views. Here there is on the whole no sufficient ground for denying that Xenophon often had, or supposed he had, something like distinct recollections to go upon, especially since some of these more casual utterances have a pith and pungency that seem to bring us into contact with a real personage.

But, along with these, there are also numerous more elaborate conversations which every reasonable consideration goes to show were framed by Xenophon himself to illustrate or enforce the conception of Socrates and his teaching which he believed himself justified in holding. Not only are these conversations too long and detailed to be vouched for by memory, but they are almost invariably lacking in intellectual distinction; the reasoning is confused and sometimes puerile, and the conclusions for the most part painfully commonplace. It is possible in some cases that the conversation is based on fact. It may very well, for example, have been within Xenophon's knowledge that Socrates had composed a quarrel between two brothers; and a few anecdotes, like that of his advice to Aristarchus, have a rather convincing ring. But that the actual words attributed to him are anywhere more than a natural attempt to dramatize the incident is inherently unlikely. And in other cases this embroidering and dramatizing of the somewhat meagre details of Xenophon's knowledge probably extends to the entire conversation; indeed, Xenophon at times almost says as much when he passes from brief and summary statements to inferences from these, or to an attempt at their concrete illustration.1 That the name of Euthydemus, in particular, represents a literary device rather than a source of genuine reminiscences, seems almost certain. This is plainly evident in the chapter where Socrates, in a most un-Socratic way, defines for his benefit a number of ethical terms;2 and the manner in which the conversations with him—the longest one taking place with no witnesses present—form a crude sort of plot, wherein the young man's aloofness and self-conceit is converted into a spirit of humble discipleship suited to the further reception of Socratic teachings, is much more suggestive of fiction than of fact.

While it is not necessary to suppose, then, that Xenophon's account of Socrates is intentionally misleading, or that he has no first-hand knowledge on which to base his apologia, the habit of quoting uncritically as evidence any statement that he happens to ascribe to Socrates is a most unfortunate one; and we cannot safely use him as a standard by which to condemn Plato whenever Plato's testimony disagrees. On the whole, the a priori probability lies on the other side; the testimony of a close and competent disciple has naturally the right of way. Even the appeal to Plato's artistic interest really points in this direction rather than the other. The more we grant that Plato was artist enough to have created, had he chosen, a new and fictitious character under the historic name of Socrates, the less reason there is for thinking he would actually have done this; from a true artist in Plato's day it is a much more realistic treatment that we should naturally have looked for, and not one that has transformed its original almost beyond recognition. And, in this connection, there is another curious fact that deserves attention. There is in existence a third and independent portrait of Socrates in his earlier days—that drawn by Aristophanes in the Clouds. This third portrait, while it has significant points of contact with that of Plato, is totally irreconcilable with the Socrates of Xenophon. And if, accordingly, we insist on taking the latter as a standard, we must suppose that Aristophanes also, wishing to present a notable Athenian character on the stage, first altered the character so completely that little but the name was left to identify it to his audience. That two such consummate artists as Aristophanes and Plato should both have adopted so unusual a method in dealing with the same contemporary, is to strain the probabilities too far.

In turning now to a closer consideration of the facts at our disposal, we are fortunately in a position to be reasonably confident of a starting point. There is a consensus of evidence that Socrates' teaching centered about the fundamental proposition that virtue is knowledge, along with the related claim that the virtues are all in essence one, and that no man does wrong voluntarily, but only through ignorance. Just what interpretation these general statements are to bear, however, is another and more difficult matter. And any interpretation must be an arbitrary one until some background is provided in the shape of an estimate of Socrates' intellectual characteristics and interests.

There are certain features in the intellectual portrait of Socrates which, as a matter of fact, nearly everyone accepts as historical; though it is seldom clearly recognized how almost exclusively it is to Plato, rather than to Xenophon, that the picture is due. On the very lowest terms, this Platonic Socrates stands out as a man in whom, against a background of strong moral convictions, there plays a quick, ironical, penetrating, sceptical intellect, always on the alert for absurdities and ready to track them down wherever they may lead; and a man who, moreover, directs this same irony against himself as well, and, far from professing to be a source of wisdom, neglects no opportunity of insisting that he knows nothing whatever except his own lack of knowledge, and that his office is simply that of midwife in assisting at the birth of thoughts in other men.

If we take seriously the outstanding features here—and they appear not only in the discussions in which Socrates is depicted as engaging, but, what is more important, in the outright statements where there is most reason to suppose that Plato intends, if anywhere, to tell the truth—we are led to certain conclusions which are not always kept sufficiently in mind. In this light Socrates reveals himself not as first of all an ethical theorist aiming at a scientific definition of the moral concepts, but as a reformer of a peculiar sort. We are overlooking the essential point in Plato, if we fail to keep well in the foreground the explicit assertion that, following the incident of the oracle at Delphi, Socrates conceived of his life as devoted to a special task in the service of the God and of the state. This service was, to awaken the citizens of Athens to the need of a real examination of the ends and ideals they supposed themselves to be accepting, by convincing them that they were by no means the wise and superior persons they were accustomed to assume, and by securing thus a sound starting point for the growth of true wisdom. This particular moral purpose Socrates declares solemnly before his judges is the key for understanding his life.

There is perhaps no better way of conveying the point here than by an expressive modern phrase. Socrates was the first great expert in 'debunking.3 It was the absurdity of human pretensions that chiefly caught his eye in every class of society about him—statesman, artist, artisan—and he made it his lifework to puncture these pretensions, and force men to the uncongenial task of an honest self-analysis. It is to this that Plato makes Socrates himself ascribe the hostility that issued in his condemnation—a statement which, following the decision of the judges, can hardly be suspected of any levity or tendency to quibbling such as might perhaps be thought discoverable in the earlier part of his defence. It is no doubt true that more than personal pique lay back of the action of the judges—in particular, the feeling that Socrates was somehow really dangerous to the Athenian democracy. But there is no real contradiction here. One has only to look about him to realize that to turn the sceptical intelligence upon the solid conventional reputations and estimates of worth that impress the average man, and to encourage any tendency to think freely and for oneself, is to lay the ground for just the charges that assailed Socrates; one is an enemy of sound morality and of the Constitution, a danger to the immaturity of youth, and doubtless an atheist at heart. This spirit of ridicule directed toward pretences and unrealities represents a familiar human type; Socrates differs from the ordinary satirist only in having a more intense personal background of moral conviction. In attacking human futilities, it was not their intellectual absurdity alone that influenced him, but their inadequacy to his own strong sense of values; he was not only a satirist, that is, but a reformer. But he was a reformer, once more, who had no panacea of his own to exploit except the panacea of clear thinking; Socrates' professions of ignorance are an essential part of the picture, and such professions continue to the very end of his life.

It will not be disputed that what has just been pointed to enters into the account that Plato gives of Socrates; and so far it hangs together. Before trying to add to it, however, it will be desirable to turn back briefly to Xenophon. And if we were not in a position to bring this view of Socrates with us to Xenophon's pages, it is quite clear we never should have supposed ourselves to find it there. Xenophon's Socrates is a man with much moral earnestness, indeed; but he has an almost stodgy mind, for the most part without salt or humor. The tone of ironic self-depreciation is conspicuous by its absence. Verbally, it is true, Xenophon admits that Socrates did not set up as a teacher of virtue directly; but in point of fact he appears continually as a preacher and exhorter, who sermonizes even in his attempts at dialectic. Worst of all, he is a good deal of a prig, and his whole life is represented as an earnest attempt to transfer to his associates the seeds of moral excellence of which he is conscious in himself. The difference in the two accounts is shown instructively in the two versions of the famous reply of the oracle. In Plato the reply to Chzrophon's question calls Socrates the wisest of men; and the narrative goes on to tell of Socrates' modest perplexity over this, and of how finally he found a clue to the God's meaning by deciding that it was only in the consciousness of his own ignorance that he excelled other men. But in Xenophon's obviously secondary account, Socrates is made preeminent in righteousness as well as in wisdom—probably Xenophon argues that this follows if knowledge and virtue are the same—and Socrates accepts the answer placidly as his due, and uses it to confound his judges. As a matter of fact, the Socratic ignorance has no place in Xenophon. There is extremely scant evidence of the sceptical caution which according to Plato characterized his intellect; Socrates has perfectly definite ideas about virtue and the good, ideas that in the main coincide with traditional morality and popular opinion. So, while Xenophon seems to be aware of the real nature of the Socratic method as it appears in Plato, he himself follows it only at a remote distance. The conversations are for the most part only in appearance heuristic. Socrates' intentions are obtrusively didactic; he starts with ready-made results in his mind to which he is all the time obviously leading up; it is only formally that his hearers do any thinking of their own, since thought is not necessary to answer 'yes' or 'no' to leading questions; and, in general, the show of logical rigor fails entirely to cover the poverty of thought.

It is difficult to see, then, up to this point, the slightest reason for preferring Xenophon to Plato, while at least one good reason exists for the opposite conclusion. Apart from the superior impression of reality which Plato's picture makes, it is necessary to account for the historical fact of the powerful influence which Socrates exerted over the young men of Athens, an influence continuing throughout a long lifetime, and affecting men of such very different types as Plato, Aristippus, Alcibiades, Euclid, Antisthenes. This influence is a mystery on the supposition that Socrates was the sort of person that Xenophon describes. And such a conclusion becomes still more insistent when consideration is given to a further aspect in which the two portraits differ.

A brief characterization of Socrates' temperament as Xenophon conceives of him, is attained with a fair degree of adequacy by classifying him as an empiricist in method, a utilitarian in theory, and, in general, a devotee of what is ordinarily called common sense. And it is perfectly true that there are elements not obviously inconsistent with this that find a place also in the dialogues of Plato. But especially in a group of dialogues from which comes a peculiarly vivid impression of Socrates as a human being—the Meno, the Phcedrus, the Phcedo, the Symposium—the distinctive feature of his natural temperament appears in an entirely different light. He reveals, in other words, the essential temper of the mystic. It is hardly possible to exaggerate the measure in which this mystical note dominates the picture which such dialogues present. It is not as a plodding empiricist, collecting instances and drawing inductive definitions, that Socrates here is shown to us, but as a passionate enthusiast for an ideal goodness and righteousness and beauty as they exist unchanging in a changeless world. Of such eternal verties this actual world contains only faint and imperfect copies; our knowledge of them comes, accordingly, not from sense particulars, which only help suggest them, but from a vision of the realities themselves which we have had in a former and better existence unincumbered by the body. To reattain this vision is the end of all philosophy; for philosophy is the one method of satisfying fully that love for the beautiful and the good which is the central fact of human nature, and the guiding motive of all genuine wisdom and attainment. And it is only the mystic who is the true philosopher.4 Are we to regard this as simply a literary expression of a phase of Plato's own earlier development, or is it to be taken as a true portrait?

It is worth while to return here for a moment to the question of inherent probability. It does not seem likely that most of those who take the traditional view have ever stopped to realize clearly what they are attributing to Plato. If anything is certain, it is that Plato genuinely revered his master, and believed himself to have received from him the impetus to the philosophic life. But is it credible that a disciple should have chosen to present to the world a figure purporting to be that of Socrates, when he himself knew, and his readers knew, that this was very largely a mask covering his own features? It is understandable that he might have attributed opinions to Socrates that went somewhat beyond his actual teachings, within certain limits presently to be noted; and as a matter of fact he did do this pretty clearly. But that he should have made these quite inconsistent with what he was aware that Socrates had really taught, and should even have chosen the sacred moments that preceded his master's martyrdom for exploiting his own contrary views, is very difficult to believe; and especially so when we note again the fact that it involves altering, not Socrates' theoretical opinions merely, but his whole concrete character as well. Surely this is the only instance on record where a pupil has conceived that he is doing honor to a beloved teacher by deliberately representing him to the world as almost the opposite sort of man from what he really was. If Socrates was not a mystic, this is just what Plato has done; and if he was a mystic, it becomes totally impossible to accept Xenophon's portrait. On the other hand, there is no great trouble in accounting for the absence of this trait in Xenophon, since Xenophon is the sort of man who could not possibly have understood the mystic temperament.

And to this may be added once more the point already noticed—that the procedure attributed to Plato is bad art as well. In the Symposium, for example, there is a remarkable portrait of the man Socrates, with his unique mixture of homely realism and of mystical enthusiasm; and the Symposium is commonly regarded as ranking among the very best of Plato's dialogues as a work of art. Now no one has ever suggested that the other characters of the dialogue are not intended to hit off their prototypes; but on the traditional view we are forced to believe that in the midst of his artistic realism, Plato intentionally introduces a discordant note by making his central figure talk in a way entirely out of character. His artistic conscience must have forbidden this had there been no other reason against it.

And there are a number of more or less well established facts that corroborate this reasoning. To begin with, the unquestioned fact of Socrates' historical influence, which Xenophon fails wholly to explain, is no longer a mystery, even apart from any further and more strictly philosophical traits that may be added to the picture. The multiform nature of this influence points unmistakably to a unique personality, with something more to recommend it to the most brilliant representatives of one of the most brilliant of historic epochs than an impressive moral character, and a stout defence of customary morality against his fellow empiricists the Sophists. It is adequately accounted for by that rare combination, which Plato shows us, of logical acuteness and a detached intellect with a wide human interest and sympathy, of an effortless superiority to all the sensual passions with a freedom from ascetic harshness or moral snobbery, and, in particular, of a clear-eyed and ironic appraisal of human life and human nature, and a chronic incapacity for its common idealistic glorification,5 with an unclouded conviction of the reality of those standards of which actual life falls so far short, and a mystical enthusiasm for their eternal beauty and perfection.

And the point of this is particularly apparent in the case of Plato himself. Between the empiricist and utilitarian, and the rationalist and idealist, there has always been a spiritual incompatibility which nothing seems to bridge. And accordingly we should have to explain the curious fact that the influence of one of the first of the empiricists shows itself, not among the empiricists themselves, but in connection with a man of an entirely different intellectual temperament, who is constantly showing his dislike and contempt for doctrines with which the teacher he continues to reverence is supposed to have been identified.

And there is other and more detailed evidence to aid in judging the probabilities here. We know that Plato was an artist fully capable of entering into very diverse types of mind, among them the mystical type. But we also know pretty clearly the sort of mind that Plato himself possessed, since we have a large group of later dialogues in which artistic creation has given place to a primary interest in philosophic speculation. And the more these dialogues are examined, the more evident it is that Plato was himself not in any proper sense a mystic, but a rationalist of a somewhat pronounced type. Of course it is possible to suppose that, when he passes from the Symposium and the Phcedo to his later writings, he is holding his deeper beliefs in abeyance; or that mysticism represents an earlier phase which later he outgrew. But either supposition will present serious difficulties to one who has followed in any detail the workings of Plato's mind in the dialogues that are most unquestionably self-revealing, as well as in the evidence supplied by the reports of his disciple Aristotle, and by the history of the early Academy. It is far easier to believe that in the earlier portrait of Socrates Plato is really doing what he pretends to be doing—depicting a mind which in essential ways is temperamentally different from what we know to have been his own.

Of Socrates, on the contrary, we have strong reason to accept as true the attribution of a natural leaning toward mysticism. His trances, the divine voice in which he placed implicit reliance, and to which no purely matter-of-fact explanation does anything like justice, his pious regard for the revelation of the God in dreams and oracles, all point to a temperament far removed from that of his eminent disciple. So too the interest he is represented as taking in the not altogether reputable Orphic mysteries, goes a good deal more naturally with Socrates' character than it does with that of the more fastidious and aristocratic Plato, who indeed elsewhere expresses an opinion of them by no means flattering. And also we have independent testimony here that is conclusive; for some of Aristophanes' best jokes would have been absolutely without point if Socrates' connection with the mysteries had not been notorious in Athens.

But before considering the bearing which this will have on the interpretation of Socrates' ethical teaching, it will first be necessary to turn to another matter of fundamental importance. For we are now in a position to say something about the much disputed question of the relation of Socrates to the 'theory of Ideas.' In attributing to him the mystical vision of an absolute beauty and goodness, we are already in contact with the essence of the Ideal theory as it appears in the earlier dialogues. There is very slight plausibility to the older view that a belief in Ideas originated in the first instance in a process of objectifying what started out as mere conceptual definitions. It is only by a misconception, to begin with, that Socrates' 'method' can be said to be inductive in the modern sense; and there is a shorter and much more direct way in which a belief in Ideas can be accounted for. In the presence of any universally valid truth or notion in which it has a tendency to believe, especially if this possesses an emotional appeal as well, realism is the normal and indeed almost the necessary attitude of the human mind. Accordingly Plato always assumes quite as a matter of course that every man of real intelligence must needs recognize that equality and beauty and justice are objective realities, infinitely more real indeed than the fleeting particulars in which they find expression. Nothing, so Simmias is made to say, is more certain than that the beautiful and the good have a most real existence. The theory that the 'form' is simply a formula created by the human mind, Plato barely mentions, only to dismiss it casually with an argument in which the self-evidence of the contrary view reappears as a basic assumption.

There are two cases in particular where this assumption is especially easy and natural. These are the concepts of mathematics on the one hand, and of ethics on the other; and it is just here that the earlier emphasis of the Ideal theory is placed. Even the thoroughgoing empiricist finds it difficult to convince himself that the truths of arithmetic and geometry are nothing more than subjective points of view; and the testimony of Aristophanes as well as of Plato goes to show that sometime in his career Socrates had been influenced by the number philosophy of the Pythagoreans. And in the field of ethics, in particular, the reasons for the ordinary man are even more compelling. No one with intense moral convictions can without a wrenching of his natural bias look upon moral concepts in any other than a realistic and objective way. Justice stands naturally to him not as a generalized notion merely, gathered from acts of a particular empirical sort; it is an eternal and absolute value, which is only partially exhausted in the multitude of actual deeds of justice with which experience is familiar, and which is adequately realized not even in the most perfect of them. And therewith the search for a true definition comes almost inevitably to be, to the realistic mind, the search for a perfect justice suggested in particular just acts but not contained in them; and it is thence only a step to the speculative conclusion that pure justice has some sort of absolute existence—or our ethical values are jeopardized—in a world that cannot be identified with the shifting world of everyday experience.

It may reasonably be assumed, then, that the starting point of what issued in the historic theory of Ideas is to be looked for, not in any process of promoting human concepts or definitions to a higher realm—concepts as such carry no emotional appeal to explain the Socratic fervor—but in an immediate feeling for the significance and objective validity of norms or standards; on the one hand the intellectual standards that govern rigorous and scientific thinking, and on the other standards of objective value. On the former alternative it would be hard to understand, for example, why Plato makes the youthful Socrates express hesitation about admitting the reality of such Ideas as that of man, though he is perfectly assured of the reality of goodness; for as a concept nothing could be more typical than man. But the attitude attributed to Socrates is easy to explain if one has started with the universality of value standards, and then finds himself logically driven to raise a question about the status of other universals as well. In this way we understand, too, how the ideal realm comes to be characterized almost indiscriminately as one of truth, of goodness, and of beauty. Intellectual and moral values, the two main sides of Socrates' interest, it is nearly always impossible for the real enthusiast to disentangle; while both alike, just because they are values, have to contemplation a further emotional significance which translates them into beauty.

But now there is one further question that needs an answer before we are at liberty to turn to the actual form of Socrates' ethical teaching. Even supposing Socrates to have been a mystic, and to have felt toward moral values in a way that theory might easily translate into a belief in the existence of ideal Forms, how are we to tell where Socrates leaves off and Plato begins, in view of the undoubted fact that there are some things at any rate in the dialogues that cannot easily be regarded as historical? It may be that this is an insurmountable difficulty, and that the dividing line is one which it is impossible to point out. Nevertheless there are certain principles here that possess some plausibility, and that seem to render possible a measure of assurance.

The first of these helps at least to set a lower limit. The argument that Plato is not likely to have lent himself to an essential misrepresentation of his predecessor in view of his own personal relations to him cannot, as has been said, mean that he has been anything like a literal historian of Socrates' views. He may have, and undoubtedly he has, put words in Socrates' mouth which Socrates could not have uttered. But the argument, if valid at all, carries one definite implication. If Plato is restrained by any sense of historical reality, then while it is conceivable that he might hold himself justified at times in attributing what actually were his own thoughts to Socrates, this would only be under certain conditions—in case, that is, he believed that they were immediately implied in things that Socrates really did teach. The line would be no hard and fast one. But nevertheless it would exist; and as the theoretical deductions got farther and farther from their starting point we should expect to find, as we do find, a growing hesitation in making Socrates explicitly responsible for them, until at last Socrates ceases to be the mouthpiece of the Platonic speculations, and is replaced by the hazy figure of Parmenides or an Athenian Stranger.

It follows, then, that while we can be tolerably assured that Socrates really held that mystical belief in an absolute good which in logical language readily translates itself into a realism of universals, we ought perhaps to hesitate a little before concluding that of necessity such an inference was actually drawn by him. There is no inherent improbability that it was so drawn. But also by itself the supposition is quite possible that Plato was the first to call attention to it; for there would be no impiety, and no failure in artistic truth, if he were merely uncovering assumptions he saw to be implicit in his master's teaching. Which alternative is to be preferred depends upon the presence or absence of further evidence.

In considering this evidence, we may revert first to a point which has been already mentioned, and which suggests a second and more positive principle. In a mere series of expanding logical deductions there is no compelling reason for stopping at one point rather than another. But a characteristic personality or temperamental point of view supplies a more promising standard. It is conceivable, perhaps, that Plato's was so complex a character as to combine both the mystic and the scientific rationalist, in different contemporaneous compartments or as different phases of development.

But it is at least equally reasonable to work on the hypothesis that he is portraying in Socrates a personality more or less different from his own. And in that case, since the maturer Plato at any rate is pretty well known to us, it is not hopeless to expect that, by using the two concrete types as a touchstone, we may be in a position to reach conclusions about certain matters of detail, provided any difference of doctrine is to be detected in the dialogues at all comparable to these differences of character. And as a matter of fact such a difference can be readily pointed out.

It has not always been sufficiently emphasized that the doctrine of Ideas assumes two fairly distinct and characteristic forms. In what roughly may be classed as the earlier and less metaphysical of two main groups of Plato's dialogues—and not including the Republic—the attitude adopted toward the Forms is primarily an ethical one; and, furthermore, it represents an interest in terms not of speculative ethics, but of ethics as a discipline or way of life. Here, as has appeared already, Socrates is shown as one whose final quest is that mystical vision of the absolute truth which is also absolute goodness and absolute beauty. For this attitude the notion of holiness is inextricably intermingled with that of contemplative blessedness. Holiness is for the sake of that immortality which mortal nature craves,6 which gets partial expression in the desire for fame or children,7 but which is only fully realized as all the trivialities of this earthly life are cast aside, and the soul comes into the presence of what is really and eternally true. Philosophy is the preparation for this perfect vision. Through it the soul undergoes a process of purgation from sensual delights which estrange it from the Good. But complete attainment can only come when death has released it wholly from the body, and it has come pure and blameless to the heavenly regions after a life of devotion to the disinterested search for truth.

Unless it is assumed, then, that almost any combination of temperaments is possible in a man of genius, we are in possession of a standard, any large deviation from which will require explanation. Now the fact is that, beginning with the Republic in particular, we do find subtle but important changes in the intellectual portrait of Socrates. On the surface there is still very much in common; but underneath there has been a significant shift of emphasis.

The underlying character of this change may be expressed by saying that the goal of philosophy has ceased to be mystic vision, and has become instead rational understanding. Since the two may so readily be expressed in the same verbal terms, it is easy to overlook the difference; but the difference is real nevertheless. A comparison of the metaphor of the winged horses with the famous analogy of the Cave will help to bring out the divergence. In the earlier presentations, it is almost without exception the ethical interest that is uppermost in Plato's description of the soul and its relation to the body. It is the sensual, not the sensible, that clogs the soul and drags it downward; the life of sense cuts us off from the vision of the Good because our passions and pleasures engross the attention, and turn it away from eternal objects to the trivialities of this passing world. But from the Republic onward the emphasis has passed from ethics to metaphysics. The great problem now becomes how knowledge of these eternal verities is possible. And the source of our human imperfection changes accordingly from pleasure, to sense perception, and the metaphysically unreal character of perceptual objects.

The more it is examined, the more far-reaching will the influence of this shifting of interest from ethics to epistemology appear to be. The life of intellect ceases to be a mystical purification for another and higher world, and scientific knowledge becomes an end in itself. A more or less systematic realm of Ideas, in which logical and mathematical concepts grow increasingly prominent, displaces those simple ideas of goodness and beauty whose very lack of sharp definition has helped to suggest the supreme values of existence; reason turns aside from the goal of contemplative blessedness and becomes the professional thinker's instrument for resolving logical contradictions; and the purgation of the mysteries is rationalized into the removing of man's ignorance, or education.8 A striking illustration of this change is furnished by a feature common to the two pictures—the exaltation of the philosophic life. In the earlier Socrates, this means a life freed from the fetters of the body, and attainable even here and now in the occasional moments of mystical experience, though only completely attainable in another form of existence when the body has been left behind. But in its later expressions the idea of the philosophic life assumes a quite different form; as it appeals to Plato himself, it is the life of pure scientific activity, released from the obligation to return to the Cave and take one's part in the work of the state.9 But a life apart from the body is altogether different from a life apart from the world of politics and business; and it is impossible to think of Socrates the talker, with his divine mission to stir the sluggish minds of his fellow citizens, and his reluctance to get away from the busy life of men even for a country walk, as setting his heart upon the quiet and remoteness of the scholar's life.

And there are various other things that bear this out. For Plato the Ideas, since they stand for scientific and dialectic truth, naturally will be open only to the elect few; the rest of the world can never be expected to believe in anything absolute.10 As Socrates views it, on the other hand, the recognition of Ideas is due not to metaphysical competence but to the vision of them in another existence; they may be uncovered by questioning in the most unpromising material; and in general they are the property of human nature rather than of a professional class of philosophers. This exaltation of the philosopher is throughout characteristic of the later treatment. With Socrates it is philosophy alone that counts—the purifying power of the vision of truth—and it is hardly credible that he would not have found in the notion of a professional class of dialectitians, if it had occurred to him, the same source of ironical amusement that he found in the professional scientists and the professional Sophists. It also is worth noticing that the attitude of the earlier Socrates toward nonintellectual processes is more what we should expect from a mystic than Plato's rather harsh and unsympathetic treatment. It is true that Socrates finds the poets, as well as the politicians and the artisans, unable to give a clear account of their meaning; but he does not single them out for condemnation, or adopt that hostility towards the poet's art to which Plato's logic led him in defiance of his instincts. True poetry is God conversing with us,11 and is no more to be deprecated than are the oracles which also come by inspiration rather than by reason, but which on that very account are to be preferred to the human wisdom that has little or no value.12 Inspiration naturally will play in the mystic's life a rôle that is absent in the rationalist's. And so we find Socrates glorifying a divine madness as the special gift of Heaven and the source of the chiefest blessings among men;13 while in his own conduct dreams and divination have an importance which they obviously never had for Plato.

We are not without fairly strong reasons for supposing, then, that Plato himself supplies a test by which, if we do not attempt to go too much into detail, we may separate the real Socrates and his teachings from the additions which Plato was led to make as his own independent thinking revealed what seemed to him the necessary implications of Socrates' standpoint. Whenever the Socrates of the dialogues is standing for an ethical idealism in terms of the mystical pursuit of those vague but preëminently real values which the terms goodness and beauty suggest, we apparently have no sound reason for refusing to believe that Plato is intending to present to us the actual historical outlines of his master; when, on the other hand, the interest of the dialogues turns to a logical analysis of the way in which the ideal is known, and to the relation between sense perception and the higher truth, the strong probability is that we are listening to Plato rather than to Socrates. And to this the external testimony also points; for Aristotle not only leaves a strong impression that Socrates' intellectual interests stopped with ethics, but he states explicitly that the theory of sensible reality belongs to Plato.

This will not mean that Socrates had no theory at all about the way we know Ideas. As a matter of fact there is weighty evidence that he did hold such a theory.

The doctrine of knowledge as recollection is assigned to Socrates so unequivocally and emphatically by Plato, as one which he was notoriously fond of setting forth, that Plato's veracity would seem almost to be involved. But meanwhile the theory of recollection itself goes to enforce the distinction that has just been drawn. For this is a speculation on an entirely different level from that analysis of knowledge as scientific method in which the real Plato is interested; and indeed it drops out of sight as soon as this interest appears.14 It is a mystical solution, based upon the Pythagorean notion of transmigration rather than on logical analysis; it still remains subsidiary, therefore, to the ethical significance which this doctrine has for Socrates; and sensible reality enters into the situation not as a problem to be solved, but simply as it performs the positive service of suggesting to our minds the ideal pattern which has lapsed from memory.

If we are justified, then, in adopting the conclusions just set forth, we are now ready to return to the main problem, and ask what light these throw, if any, upon the doctrine that virtue is knowledge, together with its various corollaries.

There is one simple meaning attaching to the claim that virtue is knowledge, which is relatively beyond dispute. Not only in Xenophon, but in Plato as well, Socrates is frequently made to argue that only intelligence insures true happiness, that the things men call good are in reality only good when in possession of the wise man rather than the fool, that the unexamined life which takes the ends of conduct for granted without understanding them is hardly worth the living15; and such proofs that virtue and happiness are impossible without knowledge are then not infrequently converted directly into the proposition that they are knowledge. That Socrates argued thus we have no reason to doubt; and if we stop here, therefore, we should have to say that his epoch-making doctrine consisted of nothing more than a set of rather obvious practical considerations plus a logical fallacy. The best we could do would be to credit to Socrates the general insistence that problems of conduct be examined in the light of reason; though as he was certainly not the first to realize this, it does not permit us to rank his originality very high.

But it is impossible to do justice to Socrates' influence without recognizing that two distinct strains run through his utterances, whose combination constitutes indeed his uniqueness as a teacher. As Alcibiades tells us in the Symposium, on the surface his words were apt to seem matter-of-fact and homely, even ridiculously so; it is only as one penetrates beneath that there flashes out, for one who has the eyes to see, a soul-stirring beauty which calls forth a response from all that is most divine in his hearers. It follows that we are not on safe ground if we take the easiest and most commonplace interpretation as most adequate to Socrates' full meaning. And even apart from the fact that the shrewd and homely traits of common sense in Socrates' nature may lead us to overlook the other and more distinctive side, it is clear from Plato, who certainly is the more adequate reporter here, that allowance has always to be made for the requirements of Socrates' method of interrogation. For, if it is the essence of this method to adopt as its starting point some proposition on which his interlocutor is prepared to agree, then in proportion to the interest he takes in showing up human ignorance will be the likelihood that the assumptions on which the discussion rests fall short of Socrates' own beliefs.

And there is to be found in Plato himself another interpretation of the Socratic dictum. In the Phacdo, in particular, virtue is made definitely to stand for something higher than civic or moral excellence with its background of utilitarian caution.16 It is not prudence or practical intelligence, but passion and insight—that vision of eternal goodness which constitutes the highest goal of human nature. Now such a clue will render the doctrine that virtue is knowledge not only more significant, but more intelligible as well. If goodness is not utility, but an absolute and emotion-stirring value, it is possible to see how without a logical fallacy knowledge should come to be regarded, not as a means to happiness or virtue, but as virtue itself. The essence of virtue is the response of human nature to the best and highest; it is the insight which is at once knowledge and emotional love.

And this explains the related doctrine that evil is always due to ignorance in a way much more convincing than does the utilitarian consideration—though this too was doubtless used by Socrates in arguing with the worldling—that no one will voluntarily do that which is to his own ultimate hurt. If the knowledge of the Good is to be identified with the mystic fervor of insight, it is easy to see how, for Socrates, it would appear incredible that conduct should not follow inevitably from the perception of that which stirs our immediate love and reverence; if virtuous conduct does not follow, it must be because this vision of the real beauty of righteousness is lacking. It explains, again, why the virtues are not many but one. The moral life is not made up of separate compartments, but is a unity of insight; and from such a vision of things as they truly are all the virtues alike will flow. And it supplies, finally, a clue to Socrates' interminable discussions about the teachability of virtue. If virtue is knowledge, it must in some sense be capable of being taught; but where are we to look to find its teachers? Plainly they do not exist; and yet since virtue itself undoubtedly exists, they ought to be discoverable if virtue is only brought about by teaching. And so long as we mean by teaching what the Sophists meant—professional instruction—Socrates indicates no way out of the dilemma.

But for himself the difficulty is not really there; if the true teacher is he who arouses the dormant insight which the mind already possesses—if to be taught, that is, is the same thing as to remember17—we can understand how virtue can still be knowledge, even though it cannot be produced by the imparting of information or by exhortation. It can be elicited, if not strictly taught; and it is Socrates' whole mission to elicit it.

And this leads to one further point that at first might seem to raise a difficulty. Socrates' chief merit has often been taken to be that he was the originator of a new scientific method in the field of ethics—the method of logical definition; and he is conceived as having spent his life in an endeavor to define the virtues and the nature of the good. And it is true that Aristotle, and even Plato at times, both tend to convey such an impression. But their own technical interest in scientific methodology is sufficient to account for this without its being necessary to assume anything more than that they thought themselves to have discovered, in Socrates' way of arguing, something which when made explicit could be utilized by the philosopher.

And, as a matter of fact, the internal evidence for the common view is singularly weak. Concretely, Socrates' dialectic appears as incidental to his professed ethical purpose; it is his divine mission as a gadfly of the state that justifies his interest in it, and not the technical and sophisticated concern of the scientist for method. And it is even doubtful whether he could really have cared very much for the results of method, in the form of accurate definitions. When one stops to think about it, it certainly must seem a little strange that, if Socrates had made it his main business to define the virtues, he should not have had some results to show at the close of a life extended beyond the usual period; certainly the rather pitiful results that Xenophon reports would not have been beyond him. But to the end he continues to insist on his own lack of knowledge, and to assign to dialectic a negative rather than a positive value. And this is far more understandable if the demand for definitions was primarily a tool for exposing ignorance, than if it was the quest for a scientific terminology.

It is quite true that a call for clear thinking is at the bottom of Socrates' whole activity. But it is to a clarification of the ends of conduct, and of men's confused ideas about what is really good and worthy, that his dialectic really tends, rather than to a technique of scientific concepts. Indeed this is just what gives Socrates a real claim to originality. The working method of the ethical life is not induction, in the sense that it gets at human ends by generalizing past facts and deeds. It is precisely a matter of determining what is genuinely worth while. And for this we have to presuppose, just as Socrates did, the existence in each man of standards of value which are ultimate, but which also at the start are vague and muddled, so that they have to be cleared up and verified by an analysis of their nature and their consequences. In any case it is only on this showing that we have a natural explanation of the apparent paucity of results in Socrates' positive teaching. If his aim was definition, then he was a failure, and a rather unaccountable failure. But if his real purpose was to get men to discover in their own experience the nature of their ultimate standards of worth, or, in the language of the mystic, to attain to the vision of absolute goodness and beauty, the failure to arrive at technical concepts is a matter of no consequence. An ostentatious proclamation of an inability to reach knowledge is not unnatural in the mystic, and does not at all touch the certainty of his immediate vision of the good; it is hardly in place in the professed scientist and logician.

Socrates' interest lies, then, in the soul and not in logic. But because the soul's destiny is a vision of the good, it is in knowledge that its virtue may be said to lie; while also knowledge of a lower grade is needed, in the form of clear logical analysis and of the utilitarian judgments of 'good horse sense,' to help restore the dim visions that we bring with us into the world, and that have been overlaid by unthinking custom and by an indulgence of the bodily passions. In so far as Xenophon misses this, he fails to give us a true picture. At the same time Xenophon's testimony does not need to be entirely discarded, and it is usually possible to pick out with some measure of confidence the modicum of truth which it contains.

The case that is most important for the history of ethical theory has to do with Socrates' attitude toward pleasure. Xenophon tells us in no uncertain terms that Socrates was, so far as theory goes, what nowadays would be called a hedonistic utilitarian; he taught that utility is what determines not only the goodness of an act, but even the beauty of an object. On the other hand this is an opinion obviously difficult to reconcile with a mystical idealism. And, furthermore, there is abundant evidence, some of it from Xenophon himself, of a personal attitude on the part of Socrates which suggests a quite different conclusion. Certainly he is always represented as himself totally indifferent to pleasure or to worldly success; and Plato even makes him argue explicitly against the prudential conception of the virtues as only an inverted self-indulgence.

It might at first seem easier to set aside Xenophon's testimony, as out of harmony with better established evidence. But there are reasons against quite so drastic a course. Not only does the Platonic Socrates also occasionally use language not very dissimilar to Xenophon's, but it is scarcely credible that a school of professed hedonism should have sprung from Socrates' teaching had Aristippus not found in his words some apparent support. This same consideration, however, it has to be noticed, applies equally of course to another and quite opposed type of ethical doctrine that also claimed the authority of Socrates—the Cynicism of Antisthenes, with its contempt for pleasure. Accordingly the problem is to discover how three distinct and opposed ethical philosophies should have had their source in one man's teaching.

One conclusion follows pretty directly from the existence of the problem; and it bears out the conclusions already drawn as to the relatively non-technical character of Socrates' interest in philosophy. There is no reason to suppose that Socrates himself ever directly raised the question, 'Is pleasure the good'? Not only would the striking difference of opinion among his followers in that case be hard to account for, but it is difficult to see Socrates, the mystic, finding such a question worthy of discussion. And this granted, there are two or three considerations that go a certain way toward dispelling the impression of inconsistency.

First, there should be noticed the very distinctive nature of the personal attitude that is attributed to Socrates. It is not that he feels an ascetic hostility towards pleasure, as if there were something essentially evil about it. Socrates recommends the pleasures of self-control and moderation, the life of few wants and ready satisfaction; and he protests against the tendency of pleasure to seduce man from his true interests. But the point in both cases is the same; the case against pleasure is not its evil and sinister importance, but its insignificance. It occupies us with trivialities when we might be engaged with a vision of the absolute; it entails unnecessary anxieties and disproportionate effort for what in the end is not worth the trouble. And consequently we are not to give it an evil eminence; it is enough that we should refuse to let it dominate us. And this, the logical corollary of his doctrine, is just the attitude we are told that Socrates personally adopted. He did not practice asceticism; and on occasion he could drink his companions under the table. But he drank, not for the pleasure it gave him, but as an incident in the day's work; and he was just as well satisfied to go without.

It is obviously this side of Socrates' teaching and example that, by an exaggeration of emphasis, developed into the Cynicism of Antisthenes. Much less significant, as an aspect of Socrates' own thought, is the hedonism of Aristippus, even though it seems backed by Xenophon's testimony. This would be scarcely understandable, once more, if Socrates had thought pleasure important enough to go out of his way to define its relation to the good. But just because pleasure to Socrates was so emphatically not the good, it is possible to understand how he might have allowed himself to say things from which, taken by themselves, an impression of theoretic hedonism and utilitarianism might have been derived. Two things in particular explain this possibility. In the first place there is not the slightest reason to suppose that Socrates, any more than Plato, would have refused to identify man's destiny with happiness of some sort—the vision of the good is plainly the best and highest happiness—and since it is practically impossible always to use language in a way that makes a sharp distinction between happiness and pleasure, he may very well have talked at times in a manner open to misunderstanding by a literal-minded hearer, without straining at all his personal convictions. And to this is to be added the further fact, already commented on, that the nature of his method makes it necessary constantly to accept and argue on the premises of his interlocutor. And if in a discussion with Protagoras, he takes for granted popular judgments which he is aware that Protagoras will not dispute, only a total disregard of what we know about Socrates' habits can justify an unqualified assumption that he must have been expressing his personal opinions. Even Plato, whose views about pleasure are sufficiently clear, can talk like an ordinary hedonist when he is framing the preamble to a legal statute, intended to convince, not the philosopher, but the average citizen.18

The other outstanding feature of Xenophon's account—the disposition of Socrates to identify virtue in practice with a respectable acquiescence in existing law and custom—it is also not difficult to account for without accepting the emphasis that Xenophon gives it. That Socrates felt a genuine piety toward the state, as the mother and guardian of her children, would need no further evidence than the Crito, where he justifies his refusal to escape from prison at the expense of bringing discredit upon the lawful forms of government; but it is a far cry from the recognition that a virtuous man will not wantonly disregard his country's laws, to the claim that virtue consists mainly in conventionality and conformism. In all likelihood the traditional opinion is right in supposing that Socrates was not in harmony with the Sophistic tendency toward loosening the bonds of the customary morality. But this it may be reasonably conjectured was due less to a belief in its final value, than to a feeling, common to the mystic temperament, that no reform of conventions, aiming mostly as it does at greater liberty of individual conduct in this present world, is much worth troubling about when the true realm of value lies elsewhere, as well as to a sceptical distrust of the power of human reason to work sure-footedly at such a task.


1Memorabilia, 111, 8, 8; IV, 2, 1; 5, 1; 6. 1.

2 IV, 6.

3 Cf. Alcibiades' remark, Symposium, 216.

4Phado, 69.

5Symposium, 198.

6Meno, 81.

7Symposium, 206 ff.

8 Sophist, 231.

9Thexetetus, 173-5. Cf. the Republic (Bk. VII) as interpreted by the account that follows of the content of philosophic education.

10Republic, 493-4.

11Ion, 534.

12Apology, 23.

13Phcedrus, 244.

14 Cf. Philebus, 34, where reminiscence is defined psychologically in a way that reverses what it meant for Socrates.

15" Cf. Laches, 194; Euthydemus, 281; Meno, 88; Apology, 38.

16Phcedo, 82-4.

17 Meno, 87.

18Laws, 733-4.

Homer H. Dubs (essay date 1927)

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SOURCE: "The Socratic Problem," in The Philosophical Review, Vol. XXXVI, No. 214, July 1927, pp. 287-306.

[In the following essay, Dubs argues that, contrary to "the view commonly held," Plato's account of the character and philosophy of Socrates is "substantially correct." He concludes that, at the very least, Plato did not deliberately distort the historical Socrates's character or opinions.]

The purpose of this paper is to present some considerations in support of the thesis that Plato's account of the character and philosophic opinions of Socrates is substantially correct, as against the view commonly held.

The usual interpretation of Socrates is based on scepticism of Plato's trustworthiness. In 1741, Brucker, sceptical of the accuracy of ancient writers, first refused to accept the unanimous opinion of antiquity as to the genuineness of Plato's account, and reasoned that Plato was a creative thinker, and so would naturally put his own original thoughts into the mouth of his master, Socrates; whereas Xenophon, just because he did not have any philosophic originality, would be more likely to preserve the historic Socrates. Therefore our knowledge of Socrates must be founded on Xenophon's account. This opinion gained the assent of Hegel and the Hegelians, and through their influence became accepted by the philosophic world. Schleiermacher proposed to add to Xenophon's testimony those elements from Plato's account which would be necessary to justify the picture of Plato. Zeller accepted that canon, and so there grew up the received interpretation of Socrates—that he was interested chiefly in ethics and conceptual definition, and certainly did not propound the theory of ideas.

The two chief foundations of this interpretation are the almost universal lack of a historic sense by writers of the ancient world, and the fact that Plato was undoubtedly an original thinker. When Xenophon wished to express his own views upon household management, land improvement, and agriculture, he put them into the mouth of Socrates. The picture of the man who was so little interested in the country that he never went out of the city of Athens except when compelled to do so, Socrates, teaching agriculture, was a little too much even for Xenophon, so he put most of his material into the form of a conversation related by Socrates, a literary form which had been adopted in some dialogues of Plato; but the fact that a work could be published which portrayed the city-loving Socrates relating a conversation on estate management twenty books long, shows how little sense of historic accuracy was possessed by people of the time. Since the author of the subtle and highly philosophic dialogues of Plato could have been no other than a great philosopher, and consequently a creative philosopher, it was also thought that, like Xenophon, he put his own opinions into the mouth of his master. And so the educated world has pretty generally accepted the theory that most of what Plato attributed to Socrates, especially the deeper philosophic views, are really views of Plato, and not of the historic Socrates at all.

But an argument such as the foregoing, which is based on general considerations only, may fail when applied to a particular case. It might be that Plato is an exception to the almost universal rule, and he might nevertheless be giving us a trustworthy account. Great men are always exceptional, and so we should not close our minds to this possibility. Socrates is generally credited with being the founder of the school of philosophy which includes Plato and Aristotle—the most influential philosophic movement the world has ever known. There is no case known where the founder of a great and original movement was himself a second- or third-rate thinker, whose historic importance is largely due to the fact that he attracted men who were much more brilliant and original than himself, to elaborate and develop the foundations which he himself laid. Yet that is the conclusion to which the received interpretation of Socrates is driven—that he was greatly inferior in philosophic ability to Plato, merely a second- or third-rate thinker, who was interested only in the 'practical' problems of philosophy, especially ethics and definition, and left the theoretical problems of metaphysics severely alone. How much more probable that the man who discovered the concept and founded the classic Greek philosophy should have himself been a great philosopher!

So we find that there are general probabilities on both sides of the question. It is indeed a most complex problem, and can best be compared, in its difficulty, with the problem of the authorship of the Pentateuch, and must be solved by like methods—the detailed consideration of verses and words, and the fitting of all into a harmonious whole. It is indeed a scientific, rather than a philosophic, problem. Since the author of this paper cannot claim to be an authority on Greek literature and language or Greek philosophy, he can only present a few considerations which have come to him as he has studied the works of Plato and Xenophon, and the interpretations of Professors Burnet and Taylor.

The received theory of the historic Socrates makes Xenophon the primary source for our knowledge of the man, and takes Plato only as a secondary source, in accordance with the dicta of Brucker, Hegel, and Schleiermacher. But how much reliance can we put upon Xenophon? He was not a philosopher. He had no interest in the theoretical problems of philosophy. A bluff general, he is at his best in the campaigns of the Anabasis; but when he attempts to portray a banquet, he only succeeds in giving a very ordinary conversation, which, had it not been for the historic characters portrayed, would not be worth preserving or reading. The Cyropwedia shows that he had a taste for writing philosophical romance. Even in the Memorabilia it is impossible to believe that all of the conversations recorded there are genuinely historical. Who could suppose that while Socrates lectured his son on his duty to his mother, or when he urged Cherecrates to make up his quarrel with his brother, Xenophon was standing by, silent, treasuring up all that good advice in his memory? Again and again we meet with passages that sound suspiciously like the voice of the author of the other works of Xenophon. The first seven chapters of the third book are devoted to subjects in which Xenophon, the general, with his regimental interest in efficiency, was particularly interested. Ten passages are repeated from the Cyropcedia. We have many other such indications that Xenophon is far from a trustworthy historian. Indeed, when we hear him imputing to Socrates the teaching that geometry should only be studied sufficiently to gain a knowledge of the principles of land measurement, and astronomy, to be able to discern the directions at night or to set the night watches, we seem to hear the voice of the practical and efficient general, Xenophon, especially when in the same passage he admits twice that Socrates was versed in exactly the purely theoretical portions of mathematics and astronomy which he said were worthless, and had attended lectures upon them.1 We begin to suspect that the 'practical' man, Socrates, whom we have been inferring from the Memorabilia, is really Xenophon himself masquerading in the figure of his master!

Just how much actual contact Xenophon had with Socrates, we do not know. It was three years before the death of Socrates that he saw that teacher for the last time, when he left on the expedition of the immortal Ten Thousand. Xenophon was under thirty at the time. We know that he took the literary form of his dialogues from Plato, who invented the philosophic dialogue; the subjects of Xenophon's dialogues, the Apology, and probably also the Banquet, were taken from similar dialogues of Plato. Indeed there are surprisingly few facts of Socrates' life (as distinct from reports of his opinions) recorded by Xenophon, which he could not have gotten from the published writings of Plato. If we compare the writings of Xenophon with those of Plato, we find that exclusive of those things which are plainly the result of the working of imagination, there are very few statements about Socrates' life in Xenophon's writings, except those given by Plato. In fact Aristotle never quotes Xenophon, although he must certainly have known his writings. Xenophon is at best an unreliable witness to the historic Socrates, and his evidence may be almost entirely secondary, a distortion of the Platonic account.

It would be out of place here to discuss at length the result of the researches into the development of Plato's style as dating the different dialogues. From the importance which stylistic and linguistic considerations have assumed in the discussion of the Pentateuch, it is easy to see that such stylistic conclusions may have an important bearing upon our interpretation of Plato. If, for instance, it could be shown, from purely stylistic considerations, and quite independently of any presuppositions as to the development of Plato's thought, that the Phaedo was an earlier work, and was not his "last testament to his school," we should be very much more inclined to consider the teaching of the Phaedo as genuinely Socratic. That such may well be the case can be seen even by those ignorant of Greek. It is a well-known fact that the literary style and dramatic quality of some great writers have declined considerably with the approach of age. This was notably true in the case of Robert Browning. There are few poems written by him after the Ring and the Book which equal in literary quality those written earlier, although there is a gain in philosophic content. Plato died at the age of eighty-one, and the character of his literary style in his later years can be seen from a reading of the Philebus, which entirely lacks the subtle humor and dramatic quality of the earlier dialogues. But the Phaedo, not only in the description of the death of Socrates, but also in other passages, such as the passage on the dying swan of Apollo, ranks with Plato's best literary work, and is therefore not likely to have been composed in the same period when he wrote the Philebus and the Laws, but in his younger days, when his powers were at their height.

A more striking piece of evidence of the historicity of the Platonic Socrates is to be drawn from the character of Socrates himself. The Protagoras is generally conceded to be a 'Socratic' dialogue. It is in that dialogue that Alcibiades declares that Socrates exceeds all men in the power of grasping and pursuing an argument. Indeed there could be no better picture, than the one in that dialogue, of what the Chinese call the power to hold one subject through a thousand twists and turnings. And at the inconclusive end we are left with the impression that the Socrates who so pertinaciously pursued the argument and who showed such eagerness to continue the discussion, will certainly carry it further in his own mind. This impression we get from each of the inconclusive dialogues, such as the Euthyphro—that Socrates was a logical thinker who would pursue a problem as far as reason would carry it, and not stop in the middle of an inquiry.

When we turn to a consideration of the philosophy which Plato puts into Socrates' mouth, we find the same characteristic of logical coherence. If Socrates made any philosophic discovery at all, he at least discovered the concept. That is conceded to him by almost everyone. But the inquiry into concepts leads logically to the Socratic search for definitions. A definition is nothing more than an explicit statement of the content of a concept. And the Socratic practice of seeking for definitions led directly to the practice of the maieutic art. Socrates' way of discovering the definition of a concept was to question his hearers and lead them to express their own implicit convictions, much as in the Meno he led an ignorant slave lad to recognize what was the side of a square of twice the area of the original square. That this practice of spiritual midwifery was genuinely Socratic is shown by a passage in Aristophanes' Clouds, where the disciple tells Strepsiades that his loud knocking has caused the "miscarriage of a thought." But the maieutic art logically involves the doctrine of reminiscence. Whence could it be that different persons had the same content for their innermost conceptions? Either because they had had the same experiences or because these ideas were implicit in their souls. But this common content could not come from experience, since often they had never before thought of such matters, any more than the slave lad in the Meno had ever before heard of the term, the 'diagonal' of a square. But Socrates showed his audience that nevertheless the slave lad recognized the meaning of that concept, although he did not know the name for it. If these concepts are inherent in men, and not from experience, how could they come into human nature except in a previous existence, from which time they were unconsciously remembered? Even though for Socrates this doctrine of reminiscence might have been only a myth, and not literally true, he must certainly have thought that something like it was true. The maieutic method of eliciting conceptual definitions from different persons implies at the very least that these concepts are in some sense independent of the individual and so exist independently. This doctrine logically involves the preexistence of these ideas. To be remembered from a former existence, the ideas must have existed in that former existence independently of individual human beings. So we are led to the notion of a realm of ideas, which realm is independent of human knowledge of them, and to the doctrine of two worlds—the world of preexistent ideas and the changing world of experience—and to the theory of ideas with the worlds of Being and Becoming, knowledge and opinion, etc., by a logical chain of reasoning, beginning with the admittedly Socratic concept. Where can the chain be broken? Certainly not until we reach some form of the ideal theory; and if we must attribute a theory of ideas to Socrates, why not the particular theory so plainly attributed to him by Plato? It is the difficulty of presenting one end of the chain without being led, by the sheer force of its logical concatenation, to the other end, which led the writer to feel that the theory of ideas is Socratic. Indeed it is difficult to think that the logical thinker, Socrates, if he pursued arguments as relentlessly and pertinaciously as he is pictured as doing in the Protagoras, should not have followed his conceptions to their logical conclusion in the doctrine of the two worlds and the fully developed theory of ideas. A second-rate man, a Xenophon, might have stopped half way; Xenophon never pursued any chain of reasoning very far: but then Xenophon could never have discovered the concept, nor would the purely 'practical' Socrates, whom he presents, have done so! The persistent reasoner who seems to be drawn from life in even the earliest Platonic dialogues would hardly have refrained from carrying his argument to its ultimate conclusion. In view of the coherence of this doctrine, it would seem that we must either take the whole of it as Socratic, or else deny that any of it is Socratic at all, even the logical concept. Either we must deny that we know anything at all about Socrates, and assert that the accounts of Plato, Xenophon, and Aristophanes are alike fiction, or if we assert that Socrates had any philosophic originality at all, we must assert that the whole of the teachings which Plato attributes to him are really Socratic.

There is an apparently sufficient answer to this position in the statement of Aristotle: "Two things may be fairly ascribed to Socrates—epagogic arguments and universal definition.… Socrates did not make the universals or the definitions exist apart."2 But we have no right to expect in the lecture notes of the Metaphysics, such careful statements as we would get in a history of philosophy. To understand the passage we must consider the context. In the previous part of the chapter, Aristotle is considering the sources of the ideal theory. In one sentence he talks about "the supporters of the ideal theory," and in the next he talks about Socrates. From the close connection we might well gather that Socrates was one of the supporters of the ideal theory! Then he speaks of how Socrates was led to make his contributions to the ideal theory, the source of which he finds especially in these two things, epagogic reasoning and universal definition. We cannot fairly interpret this passage as asserting that Socrates' interests were confined to these two things—even the received interpretation asserts that Socrates was interested in ethics, which is not mentioned here. As to the other sentence, that "Socrates did not make the universals or the definitions exist apart," Aristotle unfortunately does not explain what he means by "exist apart" or by whom they were made to exist apart. The people who declare the ideas to "exist apart" might very well be, as Professor Burnet has suggested, the "friends of the ideas" of the Sophist (248 A), who made a far sharper separation between ideas and things than did Plato, and who are attacked in that dialogue. So upon closer consideration, this passage in Aristotle not only is no contradiction to the interpretation of Socrates' philosophy which is here upheld, but even points in the same direction.

There is an additional piece of evidence for the genuineness of Plato's picture of Socrates to be derived from what we know of Plato's own character and artistic ability. He was a man of extraordinarily keen and exact dramatic sense of fitness. There is little or no indication that Plato wrote with an ideal of historic accuracy such as that demanded by modern historians. Such a conception did not yet exist, and what we know of contemporary writings, such as those of Xenophon, shows that the reading public did not require or expect historical verisimilitude. But Plato was a dramatist who has rarely been equalled in the dramatic characterization of his figures. He can best be compared with Shakespeare in the way in which he completely effaced his own personality in the characters whom he depicted. Plato was able to throw himself into the most various and unlike characters and depict them with marvellous fidelity. So true to life are the figures we meet, and so great Plato's self-effacement, that the personality of Plato does not appear at all in his dialogues, and when we have read them all we know little more about Plato as a person than about Shakespeare. Undoubtedly he put speeches into Socrates' mouth, but so keen was his dramatic sense that he put only those things into the mouth of Socrates which were thoroughly appropriate. We must remember that Plato was thoroughly acquainted with the persons who figure in his pages and the subjects on which he makes Socrates discourse. Socrates was a close friend of several members of Plato's family. An uncle, Charmides, had been a close associate of Socrates. An older brother, Glaucon, had been a disciple. A half-brother, Antiphon, studied the Socratic philosophy. Plato probably heard Socrates and his philosophy discussed by members of his family from the time that he was a child. In addition, during the last eight years of Socrates' life, Plato was associated with him. Plato's own philosophic ability is a guarantee that he understood the subjects discussed and appreciated fine philosophical distinctions. The speakers in the dialogues are almost all men who were well known in Athens and with whom Plato could have become well acquainted. It is admitted by those who hold to the usual interpretation of Socrates that the other figures in the Protagoras are depicted with entire fidelity to life. With such a keen dramatic sense and such a full understanding of the subject and of the persons whom he portrays, it is hard to think that Plato did not also depict his chief character, Socrates, with full fidelity. Not that the conversations are historic records, but they are dramatically true to life—Plato, with his nice dramatic sense, would not have portrayed Socrates as discussing any subject or uttering any sentiment which he could not well have uttered historically. That such is the fact is further shown by certain peculiarities of some of the dialogues, which will next be considered.

Plato began his career as a writer, with full acceptance of Socrates' philosophy and with an intention of perpetuating the memory and teachings of his master. It was not until he was more than forty years old, that he came to differ from his master. We find a similarly late development of philosophic doctrine in the case of Immanuel Kant. But in Plato's first period he devoted himself solely to proclaiming the teachings of Socrates and to perpetuating his memory. In that attempt he was so successful that today it is still the Platonic Socrates who lives in our minds; while the Socrates whom we have created in accordance with the dictates of the received interpretation and the accounts of Xenophon remains only a poor lay figure. But there came a time when Plato, as every great thinker, began to differ from his master, and when he wished to elaborate upon what his master had taught. He wanted to say things which Socrates would never have said, and yet which were direct outgrowths of Socrates' own teaching. Sometimes the literary necessities of the dialogue made him put these things into Socrates' mouth, but Plato's dramatic sense of fitness was outraged in so doing, so he satisfied it by putting into the text a warning to the reader not to take this saying as genuinely Socratic. We find such warnings in various places in the later dialogues. In the Republic, when Socrates is enumerating the sciences which should constitute the curriculum of the guardians, and hence the ideal for the youth of the day, he comes to solid geometry. Solid geometry did not exist in the time of Socrates, and so Socrates could not have spoken about it; yet it did exist in the time of Plato, and Plato could not leave it out. So Plato has Socrates include solid geometry in the curriculum, but satisfies his own literary conscience by making Socrates' companion reply (528B), "But that does not seem to have been discovered yet"! In the Thaetetus, in which Plato discusses different theories of knowledge, he is so disturbed by the parts of this dialogue which are not quite faithful to the historic Socrates that he prefaces the discussion with an account of the maieutic art, in which he emphasizes that Socrates is not wise and did not originate anything of himself.3 This statement cannot be literally true and must be an exaggeration, for in the Meno (98B) Socrates says that he does know some things. This statement is sometimes used in defence of the received interpretation; but even that interpretation admits that Socrates did know some things, even such important generalizations as that virtue is knowledge. The whole dialogue, in which Socrates propounds one epistemological theory after another, contradicts the statement that Socrates knew nothing, which sounds quite out of place. This statement is an example of the Socratic irony. Plato evidently means that Socrates did not know the things which he speaks of in this dialogue, and so the statement is exaggerated to counteract the general impression of the dialogue, because in it Plato makes Socrates know so much and propound such novel ideas! The Protagorean sensualistic theory (152D ff.) is plainly indicated as not Socratic and not that of Protagoras; one reason for connecting it with Protagoras was probably to make it possible that the historic Socrates could have known it. When Socrates is made to use the term doxa in a new sense to mean 'judgment,' he prefaces it by saying (189E), "I am speaking of what I do not know"! Later when Socrates comes to state an idealistic theory of knowledge, he says that he learned it in a dream! So we see that where Plato is obviously not dramatically accurate, he recognizes and indicates that fact. Evidently Plato was very much bothered by the lack of historical accuracy of this dialogue, and so was compelled by his literary conscience to indicate in various ways its shortcomings in that respect.

In other dialogues Socrates is no longer the chief speaker, and his place is taken by the Eleatic Stranger, Pannenides, Timaus, or the Athenian Stranger. Socrates listens to others or is absent altogether. Evidently there were some things which Plato could not put into Socrates' mouth at all. But in his old age, long after he had ceased writing Socratic dialogues, Plato did write another, the Philebus. The subject of the dialogue is an attack upon pleasure as the highest good, and consequently was fairly appropriate to Socrates. But Plato's dramatic power had waned very greatly, and so he was not so careful as to just what he made Socrates say. He had long before published his own views wherein he differed from Socrates, and probably thought that his readers would understand which doctrines were his and which really Socratic; but even here, when Socrates enunciates the central doctrine of the dialogue, Plato apologizes for putting it into Socrates' mouth by making him say (16C) that it is a gift from the gods handed down by tradition!

Were Plato a pious fabricator who sought to gain authority for his own ideas by putting them into the mouth of his better-known master, he would certainly not have boggled at adding such a detail as solid geometry or these other teachings to what Socrates is made to say. If Plato did not hesitate to put his own theory of ideas into the mouth of Socrates, why should he have refused to make him utter the teaching of the Sophist or the Statesman? Why should he warn his readers at times not to take some teachings as genuinely Socratic? A fabricator would not have warned his readers at all. If Plato thus warns his readers at times, and refuses to attribute some dialogues to Socrates at all, have we not a right to infer that where there is no warning, the teaching is genuinely Socratic, or at least like what Socrates did actually teach? At least it must follow that Plato never deliberately falsified the character and opinions of the historic Socrates. That he may have unconsciously attributed views of his own to Socrates is possible, but only to a very limited extent. That such unconscious attribution could not go very far is shown by Plato's carefulness and the delicacy of his dramatic sense. A writer who could portray the characters of the Protagoras with such dramatic fidelity could not go very far astray. Especially when in the Parmenides he came consciously to criticize Socrates' views and to distinguish them from his own, he would become aware of the differences between his own philosophy and that of Socrates. But the philosophic doctrines there attributed to Socrates are exactly those of the Phxedo and Republic, the theory of ideas. Plato's nice sense of dramatic fitness has preserved the historic Socrates for us.

In the Socratic irony there is to be found a seemingly conclusive reply to these arguments. If Socrates knew so much, if he worked out the metaphysical system of the Phxedo and the Republic, how could he say that he did not know anything? This asseveration of his ignorance is found in many dialogues, but it is stressed most of all in the Apology, where Socrates states that he alone is wise because he knows that he does not know anything. This assertion of ignorance cannot be denied, since it is too closely connected with passages which are universally conceded to be those picturing the historic Socrates, yet it appears to be quite inconsistent with the man who discovered the two worlds of Being and Becoming, and formulated the ideal state of the Republic.

This is indeed an important consideration, and unless Socrates' irony can be shown to be harmonious with the character of the Platonic Socrates, we must give up that interpretation altogether. But we must remember that the Socrates of Plato's dialogues is not a figure who always puts his philosophic theories into exact language, nor is he a man who always addresses himself to a philosophic audience. Plato was so much of a dramatist that the dramatic necessities of the dialogue take precedence over the ideal of technically philosophic accuracy. The Socrates of the dialogues is addressing his interlocutor, not the reader of the dialogue. To an ignorant person, Socrates would naturally speak in terms which could be understood; he would not speak of his deeper philosophic theories to men who could not comprehend them. Socrates was too keen a judge of men to do that. Furthermore his sense of humor and his eagerness to get some persons to discuss with him sometimes led him to subtle sarcasm and even exaggeration. Sometimes he was like the great scientist who says, 'I cannot explain anything,' or the great biologist who says, 'I know nothing about life,' or who may even say, 'I really as yet know nothing.' But in the Apology he was quite sincere, and there is no reason for thinking that in that case his irony was in any sense a pose. He was on trial for his life, and was concerned only with telling the truth. If Socrates was a philosopher seeking truth, his plain declaration of ignorance given in the Apology must be a confession of failure.

In interpreting this assertion of ignorance, we must ask two questions: What does Socrates mean by 'knowledge'? If he has some special definition of knowledge in mind, our interpretation of the Socratic irony must hang upon the meaning of that word. Secondly, we must ask how he could be honest and yet say that he did not know anything, if he had created what we recognize as one of the most brilliant of philosophical constructions—the theory of ideas of the Phcedo and the Republic?

It is the greatest scientists who are most humble. It is the man who has achieved most in the advancement of human knowledge who recognizes most keenly what is lacking and is most conscious of his ignorance. It is a mark of Socrates' greatness that he too recognized his own limitations, and that much as he had accomplished, he saw that he had not attained the goal which he had set up for himself. He too confessed his failure.

Socrates was a thinker whose ideals were so high that he was compelled, again and again, to take what was only second best. In the Phcedo (98 f.) he tells of his ideal of philosophy—that it would give a completed teleological account of the universe—that it would show that the world and everything in it, is as it is, because in that way it contributes to one universal good purpose. But he also says that he failed utterly to discover such a principle, and so had to turn to a second-best method of inquiry. In the Republic (504D) he admits that he has not given a detailed description of the virtues, but only an outline, and when he comes to the highest idea of all, the idea of good, he says that we know very little of it (505A); and he can only describe it by analogy with the sun. Here are important gaps which might well justify Socrates in a statement that he is not wise.

But he goes further than that; he says he has failed: and the implication is that he has failed, not only in some important aspects of metaphysical theory, but even in gaining the practical knowledge he sought. The social and political situation in Athens during the latter part of the Peloponnesian war and afterwards must have emphasized in Socrates' mind the importance of ethical knowledge, and so we find that in almost all of the dialogues except those with special students of philosophy, Socrates discusses ethical questions. Furthermore it is noteworthy that Socrates' statement of his ignorance occurs almost always only when ethical problems are under consideration.

In the Meno we find the clue to the answer of this problem. Socrates is discussing whether virtue can be taught, and he asserts that he "literally does not know what virtue is," and that he has "never known of any one else who did" (71 A, C). This statement is not to be pressed, for further on (98B) he says that he does know some things. The explanation of such an extreme statement is to be found in the meaning of 'knowledge.' A study of the Greek text of the Meno shows that the words episteme and phronesis, and the verbs oida and epistomei are used interchangeably.4 Socrates gives an example of knowledge-a geometrical proposition which he dramatically demonstrates to an ignorant slave lad. It is plainly said to be episteme (85D). Knowledge is that which can be demonstrated in the same way as a geometrical proposition, which, like it, is inherent in the soul, and which has the compelling power of a mathematical proposition. Socrates has the deductive, mathematical ideal of knowledge. Virtue, to be taught, must be knowledge, i.e., it must be capable of being put into the form of a proposition which can be deductively demonstrated.

This was the ideal of Socrates' ethics—to get the concepts of virtue and the virtues stated in such a form that they could not only be demonstrated to be correct, but could also be applied to any particular concrete situation in the same way that a geometrical proposition is applied to a concrete case. Then virtue could be taught, and everyone would be compelled to accept the idea of virtue in the same way that he must accept the Pythagorean proposition. In that way Socrates' mission to teach his fellow-citizens to care for virtue and their souls, would be fulfilled. For that purpose he must search into himself and other men.

But how far did he achieve that ideal? Only to a very small degree. He did succeed in identifying virtue with knowledge and temperance and justice. But he failed to demonstrate them from the highest idea of all, the idea of the good. He was not even able to define the idea of good in itself. As for the particular virtues, he was unable to get an exact definition which would enable any one to recognize an act as just or unjust without equivocation. He had to confess that he was able merely to give an outline, and could not give the perfect representation which would alone satisfy.5 No wonder Socrates felt that he had failed! He was unable to make ethics the deductive science of his ideal, and to apply his brilliant metaphysical system to the concrete problems of ethics. Aristotle likewise recognized this difficulty when he made the larger part of ethics a mere empirical study.

Socrates' confession of failure created just the sort of situation which would naturally bring about the scattering of his disciples and the development of a number of schools of philosophy. Each disciple would naturally attempt to solve the problem which Socrates had left, and each in his own way. Aristippus and Antisthenes concentrated on the ethical problem; Euclid and Phzedo emphasized the metaphysical problems; Plato alone was sufficiently keen to see the full greatness of the problem which Socrates had left, and he alone had sufficient Socratic humility to keep him from asserting that he had solved the problem. Only in later years did he venture to criticize Socrates' formulation; to the end of his days he was never sufficiently satisfied with his own views on the central doctrine of all—the good—so he never published his lecture on that subject. Indeed failure was inevitable for Socrates—he had separated the realms of being and becoming; knowledge could only be of being: but practical problems are only to be found in this changing world of becoming of which there can be no knowledge. Hence ethics, in as far as it deals with practical problems, cannot be a science or knowledge, and Socrates could not get more than abstract conceptual formula. How far Socrates recognized this as an inevitable necessity of his own philosophical system we do not know; but in the Republic he admits that no actual state can embody the ideal which he describes (473A): and in the Meno the conclusion is that virtue certainly is not taught; instead, people are guided by right opinion or intuition. Socrates was such an original and great thinker that he recognized his own failure to attain to his ideal, and confessed it publicly in his irony when he said he was not wise and did not have knowledge.

These considerations drawn from the logical character of Socrates' thought, the dramatic faithfulness of Plato, and the Socratic irony, are among the reasons which have commended the historical accuracy of Plato to the writer. There are other reasons which are equally cogent, but which need no more than a mention, since they are expounded so well by Professors Burnet and Taylor. Most striking is the extremely destructive criticism in the Parmenides of one form of the theory of ideas. Philosophers have often changed their views; but if the theory of ideas as given in the Phcedo and the Republic is Platonic and not Socratic, it is strange that Plato should have devoted one of his works to a destructive criticism of his former teachings. Philosophers have never done that. If Plato did it, it is the only case in the history of philosophy. When philosophers have changed, they have done it silently; sometimes they have asserted, as Schelling did, that they have not changed at all. But Plato would not have publicly criticized his own theory, for he was keen enough to realize that public destructive criticism was quite unnecessary to invalidate his own theory. The very fact that the author of a theory has discarded it, is quite sufficient to discredit it. Public criticism is only for the theories of other philosophers.

If we have any doubts that Socrates held the ideal theory in the form given in the Phaedo and the Republic, and think that it was elaborated, in many respects at least, by Plato, such doubts would be dispelled by a careful study of the Parmenides. Here, if anywhere, when Plato is openly criticizing his master, we would get a statement of the philosophy which Socrates actually held. What we find attributed to him is the theory that there are abstract ideas in which all things participate, but that the ideas do not participate in each other (129A). This is exactly the doctrine of the Phcedo; in that dialogue the immortality of the soul is ultimately proven as a deduction from the propositions that the soul participates, as its essence, in the idea of life, and that ideas do not participate in each other, but repel their contradictories, i.e., the idea of life repels its contradictory, death, and so the soul is immortal.

There are, in addition, differences between the political philosophies of the Republic on the one hand and the Statesman and the Laws on the other—just those differences which we should expect between an idealistic and uncompromising theorist who refused to engage in practical politics but criticized the Athenian democracy and its leaders, and the more practical founder of the world's first university, whose family were engaged in politics and had been close friends of Pericles.

Aristotle was not hesitant in criticizing his master, but he said nothing about a change in Plato's opinions, or of the Laws as being "the product of senile weakness." He had been a member of the Academy for the last twenty years of Plato's life and would have known of Plato's change of philosophy, if there had been one, and would have spoken of it at one of the many times when he criticized the ideal theory. In only one place he professes to give a careful statement of Plato's philosophy, and to distinguish the teachings of Plato from other philosophies.6 In that passage, after speaking of the theory of ideas, Aristotle attributes to Plato a number theory which is unlike anything we have in the dialogues, although we have Plato's complete works. It is only in a few of the later dialogues, the Philebus, the Timceus, and the Laws that there is anything which approaches this number theory. Had Plato been anxious to spread his philosophy by attributing it to Socrates, he would certainly not have left out such an important doctrine. Had it been a mere "senile aberration," Aristotle would have known that fact and would have spoken of it instead of spending so much time in combating the theory. On the contrary he tells us that Plato's central doctrine was given in his "Lecture on the Good" which Plato never published and even forbade others to publish. That sort of conduct is just what we might expect of a disciple of Socrates who was enthusiastic in publishing his master's teachings, but ready to allow his own central teaching to be perpetuated only in the thought of the school which he had founded and by the individuals whom he had influenced, especially as he was not too sure of it. Aristotle was a nobler monument to Plato than another philosophic work would have been.

The problem of discovering the historic Socrates resolves itself into an attempt to account for the differing statements of Aristophanes, Xenophon, and Plato, and to explain each account as derived from the one true account. By starting with the wholly 'practical' Socrates of Xenophon, we could never arrive at the figure portrayed either by Aristophanes or by Plato. But it can be shown that the Socrates of Aristophanes, the leader of a school interested in physical and mathematical investigations, which practiced dialectic, observed some kind of mildly ascetic regimen, and spoke strangely of the soul, is a legitimate distortion of the Platonic figure, and that Xenophon's account is likewise explicable as a distortion of the same Platonic Socrates, this time by an advocate of practical efficiency and military regimentation of life. In this way the other two accounts are shown to be derivable only from the Platonic account, and so the substantial accuracy of Plato's account is assured.

To sum up, we find that the chief reasons for accepting the Platonic Socrates as historical are: that Xenophon, on whose testimony the usual interpretation of Socrates is based, often plainly attributed his own views to Socrates, and is quite untrustworthy; that stylistic criteria seem to group some important members of what have been called the 'Platonic' dialogues with the 'Socratic' dialogues; that Socrates was undoubtedly a man who thought his problems through to the end, and the Socratic doctrine of the concept and practice of the maieutic art lead inevitably to a theory of ideas involving independent existence of the ideas, and quite naturally to the theory of the Phcedo and the Republic; that Plato's extraordinarily nice sense of dramatic fitness and his carefulness in pointing out where he deviates from what would be appropriate to the historic Socrates guarantee his historical accuracy; that the Socratic irony can be shown to be a logical and necessary consequence of the theory of ideas of the Phcdo and the Republic and the interpretation of 'knowledge' in the Meno and the Republic; that the Parmenides can only be adequately interpreted on the supposition that in it Plato is criticizing the theory of another philosopher; that the differences of political theory in the Republic on the one hand and the Statesman and the Laws on the other can best be explained as due to the different character and family traditions of Socrates and Plato; and that Aristotle's explicit account of Plato's central philosophy is wholly different from that given by the usual interpretation of the Socratic problem, and can only be adequately accounted for by accepting this newer interpretation of Socrates and Plato.

As a result of this criticism, Socrates is restored to us as one of the greatest figures in the history of philosophy, and by his side we find Plato, equally great in philosophic ability, now recognized as not a mere poet, fabricating dramatic fictions, a person whom the author of the Laws would despise, but as one of the greatest dramatists the world has known, who succeeded in making the historic persons of Athens into the eternally living figures of his dialogues, a man who possessed the spirit of scientific accuracy in an age when it was almost unknown, who was at the same time the keenest critic of his master's philosophy and the person who developed it most powerfully.


1Memorabilia, IV, vii. 3-5.

2Melaphysics, XII, iv, 1078b.

3Thecetetus, 15OC; repeated in 157D and 161B.

4Cf. especially Meno 85, 89.

5Republic 504D.

6Metaphysics 1, vi.

John A. Scott (lecture date 1928)

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SOURCE: "Socrates and Christ," in Socrates and Christ: A Lecture Given at Northwestern University, Northwestern University, 1928, pp. 5-52.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture, Scott reviews Socrates's life and philosophic thought in order to demonstrate the influence of Socrates on Christianity. He argues that Socrates rejected the Olympic gods and thus left his followerssearching for "a god of purity and a god of justice ", and he suggests that Christianity was successfully established in Greece due to this legacy.]

During September of 480 B.C. in the waters between the Island of Salamis and the harbor of Athens the great fleet of the Persians was defeated, and Xerxes returned to Asia leaving his foremost general with a huge army to subdue the small and divided forces of Greece, but the next summer this huge army was utterly destroyed,—so utterly that assurance was given to Athens of freedom from barbarian invasion, and permission to develop her own civilization.

Never has there been such an enthusiastic delight in the joys of the mind and in the reproduction of beauty in various and enduring forms. Never have so many outstanding men of genius of the highest creative order been found in one century or in one city as then moved within the streets of Athens.

Socrates was born in 469, or just ten years after the repulse of the Persians. His country still thrilled with pride in that unbelievable victory and was entering hopefully upon the great Age of Pericles. His life thus covered the morning, the noonday, and the evening of that mighty epoch.

His father was a sculptor, and it meant something to be a sculptor in an age and among a people that fashioned the Parthenon and carved its frieze and its pediments. The son followed the craft of his father and is said to have created a group of the Graces of such beauty that it was honored with a place on the Acropolis, where it was still to be seen after the lapse of several centuries.

Greek thought and Greek morals at that time were wholly materialistic. Thinking men tried to explain all things by laws of rest or of motion, by assumptious of infinite division or of all-embracing unity. There was no need of a Creator, since matter and motion explained everything. There was no such thing as a moral conscience or a moral law, and one of the greatest thinkers, Protagoras, proclaimed the axiom, "Man is himself the measure of all things," meaning that there is no such thing as absolute right or wrong, but only individual opinion and that all opinions were of equal value and all worthless,—thus introducing the germ of moral anarchy and the rejection of all authority. Gorgias followed by extending to science the agnosticism already existing in morals, and by declaring that knowledge of any sort is impossible, that nothing really exists, that if it did exist, it could not be known, and even if it existed and were known, this knowledge could not be imparted to others.

Teachers flocked to Athens eager to instruct the wealthier youth, for high fees, on how to succeed in nearly everything but in character, especially how to win without labor or merit and how to violate the laws without danger of punishment.

The young sculptor heard these men, asked them many questions, reasoned much, and became convinced that they were false prophets, also that there is a just ruler of the universe, that there is a law of the spirit and a moral law, and that these laws are as universal and unerring as the laws of matter. He put down his mallet and his chisel and spent the rest of his long and vigorous life in searching for this spiritual law.

In his searchings he met men of many sorts. He questioned them, reasoned with them in shops, markets, gymnasia, wherever he could find them. For almost forty years he must have been the most familiar figure in his own city. A list of the famous people who listened to him and to whom he listened would include at least one-half of the super-great of Greece. It may be doubted if any man ever knew intimately so many persons of the very highest order as did Socrates. He soon became conspicuous even in that great company and his society was sought not only by the élite of Athens but also by the great from all parts of Greece. Once when war had closed the frontier between Attica and Megara, the most distinguished citizen of Megara is said to have slipped into Athens disguised as a woman, just to enjoy the conversation of Socrates. The Oracle at Delphi proclaimed him as the wisest of men, and the rising young poet, Aristophanes, wrote a comedy, The Clouds, with Socrates at the center of the merriment. Aristophanes used Socrates at different times and other comic poets, as well as he, tried to win prizes and glory by making this familiar figure the butt of their humor.

However, the great event in two great lives was the meeting of Socrates and Plato, for this meeting meant a new birth for Plato, and through Plato the life and teachings of Socrates found a fitting immortality. Plato was then a poet of growing and assured distinction, about twenty years of age, while Socrates was a little more than sixty.

Plato lived more than fifty years after the death of his master and he wrote many books. We have from him the greatest bulk of any writer of classical Greece, yet in all these books except the very last, the work of extreme old age, his writings are essentially confined to the things he assumed he had heard from Socrates. Paul said, "For me to live is Christ." Plato with equal justice could have said, "For me to live is Socrates." The convincing proof of the greatness of Socrates is the lasting influence he had with such a competent judge as Plato.

The fixed principle of Socrates' life was that knowledge is the one thing needful, that sin is due to an error in thinking, that men who know the right will in the end do the right. A favorite theory of his was that a man who errs ignorantly is more dangerous than one who errs wilfully. Since the man who errs wilfully needs only to be convinced that his interests and aims are best served by following the better course, he will therefore follow that course. However, there is no need to convince the ignorant man, since he, not knowing the better course, cannot follow it and will blunder just the same. For example, a pilot who runs a ship on a reef wilfully can be shown that it is to his advantage to steer a safe course, but the ignorant pilot will continue to run on reefs, simply because he does not know how to do anything else. Such a statement would shock many a person who could not answer it. These people began to fear him.

He constantly argued that it took experts for everything but for politics, that no one would trust cloth to a tailor, leather to a cobbler, ships to a captain, unless he knew the people engaged had learned the trade and were able to show when and where they had learned it. In ruling the state, which he claimed was the most difficult, important and dangerous of all occupations, men were chosen who had no training, no experience, and no character. Hence the politicians hated him.

He put all the facts or the stories of religion and mythology to the test of reason and asked many hard questions that could not be answered by those in religious authority. Hence all the pious conservatives tried to silence him.

Athens had seen terrible days in the last five years of the fifth century. She had lost her colonies, had watched a hostile fleet ride in her harbor, with her own fleet scattered and destroyed; had been obliged to tear down the walls that protected her citizens and had seen this destruction carried on to the accompaniment of music and dancing, and then had seen her liberties taken from her and thirty brutal tyrants put in control. At last brutality went too far, a conquered people arose and recovered its liberties and started again upon the career of independent freedom. Under these conditions the people did not look ahead but back; they longed for the good old days of peace and power, when all the citizens had faith and when the gods visited the land with favoring prosperity. All the reactionaries shouted, "Faith of our Fathers, triumphant Faith!" And they were militant, too. The politicians joined them, also those who had been silenced by the reasoning of Socrates,—silenced but not convinced. He was just the man who carried in his own person all the forces which seemed to typify the new age when compared with the old, the old age of their imagination. He was tried for disbelief in the gods, and thus corrupting the youth; convicted, and he died by taking the hemlock in 399 B.C., when he was a little more than seventy.

To illustrate what I wish to say about Socrates I shall select four scenes: the conversation he had with Euthyphro just before the trial; the trial itself; a scene in the prison, also his last hours and death.

When it became known that he was to be tried on a capital charge, his friends urged him to prepare a defense, but he replied that somehow he could not get up any interest in the matter, and to their dismay he continued utterly indifferent to the trial and the outcome. On the way to the place where his trial was to be held he meets a young orthodox conservative, Euthyphro, and he finds to his delight that this man is an authority on all moral and religious matters, just the man to give him the needed instruction before the trial, for he is certain that if he can master the things Euthyphro knows and can tell the judges what he has learned, they will be convinced and everything will be settled. Socrates asked this expert if he could define holiness and unholiness. Instantly he replied, "Whatever pleases the gods is holy, whatever does not please them is unholy." "Fine!" replied Socrates. "Do you believe the tales that tell how the gods fought with each other, how Cronus mutilated his own father, and was in turn driven from power and from heaven by Zeus, his own son?" "I certainly do, and I can tell more startling tales than these," was the confident reply. Then Socrates continued, "If you and I do not agree regarding number we settle the matter by counting. If we differ regarding the size of anything we simply weigh or measure that thing and the dispute is ended. The only thing for which we would quarrel and which we cannot so easily settle is the question of right and of wrong, and the only thing that can produce quarrels and wars is the failure to agree on what is right and what is wrong. Hence, if the gods quarrel, as you affirm, it can only be because they disagree on moral issues. Therefore they cannot themselves be the criterion of holiness and unholiness, since some of the quarreling gods must think that identical thing is right which the opposing gods think is wrong."

When this little statement got repeated and its meaning understood there could no longer be any real faith in the gods of Greek mythology. He next asked the young man to define worship, and he replied: "Service of the gods." Socrates then asked him, if it is not the purpose of service to improve the thing served and if the only aim of service is not the betterment of the object of service. Thus, a server of dogs improves dogs, of horses improves horses, and a physician or server of health improves the health of the person served; hence service of the gods must improve the gods. "Oh, no!" exclaimed Euthyphro, "men cannot improve the gods and make them better!" "I thought not," replied Socrates, "but if worship does not improve the gods, just what does it do?" Euthyphro, not a whit abashed, answered that he knew, but that he was in a hurry and would answer later. Socrates expressed great disappointment that the man who knew it all was so thrifty of his knowledge and would not clear up these difficulties for him. These two questions,—how can the quarreling divinities of Greek mythology be the source of righteousness, and, if the gods are perfect, how can they be served by sacrifices which they neither need nor enjoy?—these questions could not be answered, and the fact that they were asked cleared the field for a new religion that could and did answer them.

The Greeks never arrived at the conception of a holy god, or looked upon worship as anything else than the purchase at a small price of great favors from unwilling and jealous deities. We cannot conceive of religion apart from morality, but they looked upon religion simply as the performance of ceremonies; it did not touch the life or conscience of the worshiper. There is no occasion in Greek history where the priests and religious leaders called the people to a higher moral life; these men thought only of ritual, and the enrichment of the temple or the sanctuary. The gods of their belief were cruel, jealous, and unscrupulous. The words of Jesus, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect," could have had little meaning for Greek ears.

In the course of the trial, after the accusers had made their charges, Socrates arose and spoke not in his own defense but on the necessity of searching for truth. He told of his great astonishment when assured that the Oracle at Delphi had declared him the wisest of men, since he was conscious of no knowledge at all. In his perplexity he went to different men of great reputation, hoping to find that these men were exceedingly wise. Then, when he found them wise, he would ask the god what he meant when he called Socrates the wisest, since these men were plainly much wiser. These different men were all alike, they did know some one thing better than Socrates, and this knowledge regarding one subject gave them conceit on all subjects, so that they were ready to give authoritative opinions regarding everything. When Socrates tried to show them their ignorance on all matters but their specialty, they became angry. Then after each fruitless encounter he would say to himself: "I am at least wiser than this man, because he thinks he knows many things which he does not, while I do not know and do not think I know." After long searchings and constant disappointments he reached this conclusion: "The oracle must have meant: 'Human wisdom is naught, and that person is wisest who like Socrates knows that he knows nothing."' He then did not wholly despair, but he said: "I continued to search everywhere for wisdom, questioning whatever citizen or stranger seemed to be wise, but when I found he was not wise, I tried to point out his mistake and to remove his false impression of knowledge. This searching has taken all my time and I have been unable to enter politics, or to look after my own private affairs, and I have spent my life in unlimited poverty while seeking for wisdom.

"Perhaps someone might say, 'How foolish to pursue a course which has brought poverty and is sure to lead to danger and possibly to death.' I reply, 'Sir, you reason not well, if you think that any man who deserves the name of man, counts the cost of life or death, but does not fix his eye on this alone, whether he does what is just or unjust, deeds worthy of a noble man or of a coward. To say that a man must shun danger is to bring dishonor on all those heroes who have dared to die in defense of their country, when by flight they might have been saved. Thus matters stand. 0 men of Athens, wherever one takes his stand, whether from his own choice, or by higher orders, there he should remain, refusing to count any cost, even life itself, at the price of faithful obedience. God has appointed me to search for truth, I cannot now desert my post. I have no fear of death, since I do not know that death is an evil, for it may be the highest good; but I do know that to desert one's call to duty is an evil, and therefore I shall never seek to avoid a possible good by choosing that which I know is an evil, for, after all, fear of death is only a form of self-conceit, the conceit that one knows what he does not know. If you should now offer to acquit me on the sole condition that I should remain quiet and cease from this search, I would reply, 'Men of Athens, I love you and admire you, but 1 must obey God rather than you, and so long as I live I shall never cease searching and urging you to strive for the nobler life, for I am convinced that the greatest good I can do to my city is to urge my fellow citizens to search for wisdom and to exhort them not to care for their lives, nor for their possessions, but to care for righteousness since it is from righteousness that real success comes to both city and citizens. Therefore, men of Athens, acquit me or convict me, as you choose, but be assured of this: I will not change my course even to avoid many deaths.' My accusers cannot harm me, since a good man cannot be injured by a bad. True, they can deprive me of my property, drive me into exile, or even put me to death, but I do not count these as injuries, since they do not affect my moral nature." He then turned to the jury and told the jurors that they need not expect from him the thing they anticipate from other defendants; that he would not bring his children to beg for him, nor would he beg for himself; and that a judge does not sit to dispense justice as a favor, but to decide according to the laws; and in this spirit, he concluded: "I yield to you and to God to decide as it may prove best for me and also for you."

Since many of the jurors were already prejudiced, since many could not comprehend, and since many thought that they had been defied, such a speech could have but one result. The ballot showed 220 votes for acquittal and 281 for conviction, a vote so close that it is certain it would have been changed to an acquittal, if Socrates had been more courteous and less defiant in his tone. It must be said to the credit of Athens that 220 jurors voted his acquittal in the face of an extremely unyielding and almost taunting address.

Even the conviction meant little, as a second vote had yet to be taken to determine the punishment, and a very light one would have been accepted. All that he needed to have done, at the worst, was to have moved to Megara to the home of a famous pupil ready to welcome him. Or he could have gone to Thebes, where there was almost a colony of his admirers. If he moved to Megara or to Thebes, the distance was about thirty miles to one city and forty to the other. It is also said that he was invited to share the palace of the King of Macedon,—an invitation accepted but a few years before by the poet, Euripides. Socrates did not choose to withdraw to any friendly city, but determined to abide by the decision yet to be made by the jury. There was no superior court to reverse or change the decision. He knew that the punishment awarded would be final, and presumably immediate.

The prosecutor demanded that death be the penalty. Socrates must present an alternative punishment, and the jury was obliged to select from these two. There could be no compromise and no other punishment. It must be either the death demanded, or some other penalty deemed sufficient by a jury which had already found him guilty. It was certainly a tragic moment when Socrates arose with seeming indifference and expressed his great surprise that so many had voted his acquittal, as he had felt the vote would be almost solid against him, and then he continued: "My accuser fixes the punishment at death. What counter punishment should I offer? What should an old man suffer fittingly in return for the fact that during all his life he has neglected wealth, comfort, position, in order to search for wisdom and to encourage others to neglect everything else and to seek for righteousness? What is a just punishment for such a man? I can think of no more proper penalty than making him a guest of the city and dining him in that state building where the official guests of Athens are entertained. I am convinced that I never deliberately wronged a single person and I do not now propose to wrong myself by suggesting any sort of punishment. Some one of you might ask, 'Could you not at least agree to keep still?' Now that is just the thing you cannot comprehend, since I believe that the greatest good that can come to a man is for him each day to test his own life and the lives of others, for the untested life is no life at all for man. These things I cannot make you understand in the brief time allotted to me, but I have never accustomed myself to think that a life spent wholly in search for truth deserves any punishment."

Certainly such a proposal could have but one result as the jurors who had already voted him guilty could not then have voted him the guest of the state. His friends in the audience or in the jury, evidently in terror and despair, urged him to offer something which the jurors could accept. He then said at their request: "Plato, Crito, Critoboulus, and Apollodorus urge me to fix as the penalty a fine to be paid in money. All right; I am entirely indifferent about money, as money means nothing to me. I will set a money fine at 30 Minae [about $500], a fine which these men will guarantee, and these men are certainly good for that sum."

A bare majority was all that was needed in an Athenian court. There was always an odd number of jurors; therefore a single ballot settled the matter. The jury of course could not go back on itself; hence it accepted the penalty suggested by the prosecutor. Socrates was condemned to death. There were no possible technicalities, no reviews. The matter was at an end.

An Athenian audience was rarely in a hurry, so that while the clerk was making out the papers for commitment and execution, the jurors and spectators lingered. Then Socrates arose once more and discussed the meaning of death, summing the matter up with these words: "We ought then to be of good cheer in the face of death and to hold firmly that this one thing, at least, is true: no evil can come to a righteous man either in life or in death, and his interests are not neglected by the gods." Ordinarily a condemned criminal was executed at once, either on the day of the trial or the following; but a religious ceremony had just begun and it continued until a sacred ship had been prepared, sent to Delos, and returned to Athens. During this period the state could execute no prisoners. At this particular time the sacred festival lasted for thirty days, during which period Socrates was visited in his prison by friends with whom he discussed the problems of human understanding, the laws of logic, and the issues of life and death.

On the day of the expected return of the sacred ship his wealthy friend, Crito, came before dawn. He was at once admitted by the friendly jailer, and he was surprised to find Socrates in peaceful slumber. He sat long beside him, not wishing to disturb the rest of the friend who was to die so soon. When Socrates perceived that Crito was at his side, he asked "Why so early?" Crito replied that the ship had been sighted the day before, just off the entrance to the Athenian waters, that now everything was at stake, and there was no time to be lost. Another day would be too late. Socrates said: "I trust that that ship will have a safe and happy entrance into her hoped-for harbor, but what is the cause of all your excitement?" Crito then with tearful earnestness told Socrates that a home was ready for him in a near and friendly city, outside the jurisdiction of Athens; that his trial had been a farce; that he had been unjustly condemned, as he well knew; that his friends were in disgrace, because they did not come to his aid at the trial, as they would have done if he had allowed them; that he had three small children who needed his help and guidance; that for the sake of his friends and his family, if not for his own, he should walk out of the opened jail and follow eager friends to safety.

Socrates, deeply touched by the affection and earnestness of this faithful friend, answered: "Your zeal is great and I thank you much, but is the cause just? For if it is not, the greater the zeal the worse is the result. Let us forget that I am about to die, but let us, as reasonable men, calmly consider the facts. All my life I have never followed any course except that course which on mature deliberation seemed to me the wisest." That is, he had never allowed interest or passion to influence his acts or his judgment.

I wonder if any other man has ever been able to say that thing? Paul certainly could not, for he exclaimed: "That which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I."

Then Socrates continued: "Life is not the thing of supreme importance, but a good life. A good life must be the life of one who treats every person justly, whatever injustice he may have received. If I now leave the jail as you desire, I shall have flouted and injured the laws of my native city, and shall be a law-breaker the rest of this life and all of the life to come. Having lived seventy years as a law-abiding citizen, I propose to die that way."

He refused to follow his friends and chose to die rather than to break the laws, and in this choice he willingly met a punishment which he knew was unjust. The little book of Plato's which tells this story, the Crito, is certainly a trumpet call to the obedience of law by all who would care to be known as good citizens.

On the day set for his death the little prison was thronged by admirers who came not so much to comfort him as to receive comfort. The story is told by one disciple to another disciple who could not be present, and that story is in turn preserved by Plato, for poor Plato on that day was sick, he could not bear the strain. During the day Socrates talked almost constantly, discussing great moral problems, the relations of this world with the world to come, the moral aspects of suicide. Once when he was interrupted with word from the executioner that if he did not remain quiet it might be necessary for him to drink twice or three times as much of the poison, "All right," Socrates replied, "let there be prepared three times as much," and went right on with the discussion. He reasoned that the mind or the soul alone can grasp truth; that the body hinders the pursuit of that truth; that the senses could grasp only the temporal, the fleeting; that the mind catches hold of the permanent and unseen realities, or as is said by Paul: "For we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

Socrates argued that we can attain to wisdom only when the mind is freed from the restraints and imperfections of the body, hence it would be foolish to fear death. He then discussed a multitude of subjects with his companions, such as the powers of reasoning and the need of trusting in pure logic; the relations of numbers and why it is that two odd numbers make an even, as well as two even numbers make an even; what it is that makes people and things differ in size; then the shape of the earth, reaching the conclusion that the earth is a sphere unsupported in space. Next he advanced a series of arguments for his belief in the immortality of the soul, concluding with these words: "My friends, since the soul is to live forever we must care for it, not only for this time we call life but for all eternity, for if we neglect it the danger is terrible. If death meant the end of all it would be a boon for the wicked, since by their dying they could get rid of their wickedness, but inasmuch as the soul is immortal there is no escape except by striving after wisdom and righteousness, for the soul takes nothing with it but the moral nature it has acquired." These are not the words of a loose-reasoning fanatic, but the reasonings of one of the most logical thinkers mankind has known. He concludes: "This, then, is the reason why a man should be of good cheer in the face of death, a man who has adorned his soul with its own peculiar ornaments, such ornaments as temperance, justice, courage, freedom and truth."

When the moment came to take the hemlock, Crito asked: "How shall we bury you?" Socrates with a smile replied: "Any way you please, if you can only catch me," and then, laughing, he turned to his companions, saying: "I cannot persuade Crito that the Socrates who talks and reasons is the real Socrates, since he thinks that I am the one whom he will soon see as a corpse, and asks how he shall bury me? I shall not be here but shall already have gone to share in the joys of the blessed. Do not say at the funeral that you are burying Socrates, but only the body of Socrates." He prefaced this last sentence with a most characteristic Socratic remark: "For you know well, my good Crito, that careless and slipshod definition is not only an error in the thing itself, but produces a sort of moral deterioration in the soul." When the executioner came in, that officer was weeping, and he told Socrates how much he had come to love him, how hard his task was, and asked him not to make the task any harder by being angry at the thing his office made him do. With words of thanks and comfort, Socrates cheered the poor fellow, took the cup into his own hands and drank it without a sign of any regret or emotion. When his friends saw him drink they could not restrain their tears or hide their anguish. He turned to them and begged them to restrain themselves, since he had heard that one should die free from the sound of words of ill omen.

The friend who tells of his death, ends with these words: "Such was the death of our companion, the best, the wisest, and most just of all the men whom we have known."

Socrates left no writings, founded no school, and never called himself a teacher, since he was always a searcher, an unsuccessful searcher, as he thought, for wisdom and for truth. The example of his unselfish life and fearless death for an ideal was his great contribution to the betterment of the world. But a life that bases virtue solely on knowledge, that takes no account of human frailties, and the life of a man who could truthfully say that, so long as he had lived, he had never done a single thing contrary to the course which his deliberate reason had selected as the best,—such a life and such an example could appeal only to the few, to the elect; it offered little to the weak and the erring. Socrates must have had great influence on the thinking and the self-reliant, but the common mass could not have followed him.

We are dependent on two men for almost all of our knowledge of Socrates: Xenophon and Plato, each a writer of fame, and they only vaguely agree. Xenophon wrote many books describing other famous men and these men are distressingly like his portrait of Socrates. One of his heroes was Cyrus the Great of Persia, and this Cyrus was only his Socrates removed to Persia and put on the throne. I am inclined to think that his Cyrus and his Socrates are both ideal pictures of what Xenophon would have done in their position.

This throws us on Plato alone, but Plato is regarded as the world's greatest artist in prose, with the reasoning powers of a philosopher and with the imagination of the most daring poet. Therefore we are never sure, when Socrates speaks, that we are not reading the ideas as well as the words of Plato. It is certain that the spell of Socrates followed him all his life, that it was his ideal he sought to achieve, and that a man with the noble ambitions of Plato could not have been inspired by one whom he did not regard as his superior. The estimate of Socrates given by Plato cannot be far wrong.

We have two prayers by Socrates: "Thou beloved god, Pan, grant to me that I be made beautiful within and that the outward man be in harmony with that inward beauty. May I esteem as rich the man who is wise, and may I have only such wealth as a self-reliant man can support with safety." It seems absurd to address a prayer for beauty and purity to that ugly and licentious god, Pan. And the other prayer is: "O king Zeus, grant to us what is good, whether we ask for it or not, and turn away from us the evil, even if we pray for it."

No Greek ever had high or pure thoughts because of his theology, but in spite of it. Greek men were better than their gods. When the noble ideas of Socrates had once been uttered the world could not let them wholly die. Hence his followers continued his search for ideals worthy of sacrifice. But they soon became divided. One part thought happiness was the goal of life and that pleasure was the end of all well-being. These men were called Epicureans. Another group thought that the best life consisted in indifference alike to pain and to pleasure. They argued that if the ledger of life is balanced, one will find that the sorrows are more than the joys; hence the only way to keep the account from showing a deficit is neither to laugh nor to weep, but to accept with stern indifference both mirth and sorrow. These men were called Stoics. Still another group believed that true happiness consisted in removing one's self from all the comforts and associations of life and in despising the conventions of society. These were called Cynics. However these groups varied in method, they all agreed in this: they did not return to a belief in the gods as those gods had been worshipped before Socrates.

They wearied in the search for something worthy of faith and worship and ended for the most part in flat despair. Even the proofs of immortality brought them no comfort, but only fear and torments. One of the chief poets of Italy, Lucretius, wrote one of the great poems of all tine with the noble purpose of freeing men from a belief in their own immortality, and in an eternity which they could only dread. He argued that there was no plan in the universe, that everything was the result of material forces, unguided by intelligence, that man was only matter, and that he need have no dread of a future in which he was not to have a share. This absolute negation of God, Providence, and immortality, led to a contempt not only for the future life but for the life that is, so that even this great poet is said to have put an end to his own career. Philosophers of that period, that is, just before and just after the beginning of the Christian era, had no hope and could find no source of comfort, so that a long list of the great thinkers of that age will show that they gave up the effort in despair and ended their despondency in suicide. The illustrious Cato, patriot, moralist, and philosopher, after having reread the story of the death of Socrates, is assumed to have said:

It must be so, Plato, thou reasonest well,
Else why this pleasing hope, this fond desire,
This longing after immortality,

and then took his disillusioned and hopeless life.

At that time Socrates seemed not only to have lived in vain but to have inspired a search for the impossible and to have given birth to a dread of a hopeless immortality. He had forever shaken the beliefs in the old Olympian divinities and had sent men seeking for what they had not found: a god of purity and a god of justice. By the time of the Caesars his followers, for the most part, had no message and the best they could offer was contempt for the world and for life itself. Hence the indifference with which they contemplated and carried out suicide.

"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick," but high hope abandoned leaves nothing with which to face the future. Yet under these conditions the Athenians multiplied the number of their divinities and even erected a statue or shrine to the "unknown god." A highly significant thing about that remarkable chapter which contains Paul's address on Mars Hill, are the words which follow that marvelous address: "Howbeit certain clave unto him and believed, among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite." This man was not only a member of the supreme court of Athens but was presumably also a philosopher. Dionysius would not have accepted this strange faith at once if it had not been a thing long in his heart, for the Jesus preached by Paul seemed the fulfillment of the vision dimly seen by Socrates, and it was just because of that vision that Christianity so soon took root in Greece. The chapter which tells of Dionysius the Areopagite, contains these significant words: "and there believed of the devout Greeks a great multitude." Also "Therefore many of them believed; also of honorable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few." The first disciples who gathered around Jesus were like him, Hebrews—and so was Paul—but the leaders of the next generation, as well as the author of the book of Acts, were Greeks. Most of the early Christian fathers and the martyrs, after the first disciples, have Greek names. Their writings show that they accepted Jesus as the realization of the hopes inspired by the teachings of Socrates.

The structure of the Church is Greek, as is shown by the vocabulary, since bishop, priest, presbyter, deacon, episcopal, martyr, angel, esslesiastic, catholic, cathedral, choir, chorus, hymn, psalm, tune, clergy, laity, prophet, patriarch, evangel, apostle, even the words church and Bible, are all Greek. Without the work done by Socrates in destroying belief in the gods of paganism and in creating a longing for some such God as that revealed by Jesus, it cannot be doubted that Christianity would have found as barren a soil in Greece as it found among the Pharisees,—and even worse, for the Pharisees looked for a Messiah as the fulfillment of prophecy, while there was no such expectancy among the Greeks.

It was no accident, then, that Christianity soon outgrew Judaa and Jewish leaders and found among the Greeks those thinkers which gave it the structure, the content, and the vocabulary which it has ever since maintained,—thus fulfilling the words of Jesus: "I say unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." This great religious conversion, the most striking and important that ever took place among a people already civilized and cultured, was largely due to that simple sculptor who gave up ease, fortune, position, even life itself in the search for truth and for spiritual riches.

Everything that has been said about the setting for the life and career of Socrates must be reversed when speaking of Jesus, for Athens was the center of greatness and Socrates moved among the greatest of the great, while Nazareth was so humble, even in the humble region of Galilee, that a young man from an inconspicuous neighboring village said with a sneer: "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" The companions of Jesus were of the lowliest sort, so lowly that they were noticeable "unlearned and ignorant men." Jesus never seems to have associated with a single person of outstanding education or position. Even Nicodemus, who came to him by night, would have had no high rank in Athens or in Rome.

We owe our knowledge of Socrates to two men, Xenophon and Plato, both men of such unusual literary ability and imagination that we never know how much of what they tell us about Socrates is pure invention and how much is fact. The men who tell us about Christ were simple men, men of no reputation apart from what they derive from telling us of him,—men without literary imagination, just fitted for the simple narration of unadorned facts. A thing which pleases me much in Boswell's Life of Johnson is the way Boswell makes clever side remarks when quoting Johnson. But the writers of the Gospels never had that much self-reliance or assumption; they made no clever side remarks.

No other character until well on in the age of printing has been described by so many different persons who knew him well as was Jesus. Of very few people who lived in antiquity have we any account written by those who knew them. We are obliged to rely for all that we know of even such outstanding men as Solon, Hannibal, or Scipio, on the writings of men who lived several generations later. Certainly the most prominent men of the time of Christ were Augustus, the Roman Emperor under whom he was born, and Tiberius, under whom he was crucified. Yet for most of our knowledge of these two emperiors we are forced to rely on Tacitus and Suetonius, neither of whom lived during the lives of either of these rulers.

We have letters written by James, Peter, John, and Jude, each an intimate companion of Jesus. We have many letters by Paul, an exact contemporary who knew, if not Jesus himself, many men who did. And we have four Gospels written by four men, two of them disciples; one other belonging to a family intimate with Jesus; one other written by a competent historian who lived at that time and moved through that land, a writer who says that he had full knowledge of all these matters from the very beginning. Here are eight writers, each thoroughly familiar with the facts, who vouch for the life of Jesus. The chance that the Church later gathered these writings into one book and labeled that book the New Testament does not reduce the number of first-hand authorities.

We have the unqualified statement of the best Roman historian, Tacitus, that Nero after the burning of Rome tried to escape the blame by punishing the Christians, who, says Tacitus, were the followers of Christ who had been put to death during the reign of Tiberius by Pontius Pilate, a Roman official. Here is positive proof that shortly after 60 A.D. there were already in Rome sufficient numbers of Christians to attract the attention of Nero. We have a long letter from Pliny, a governor in Asia Minor, a letter that was written to the Emperor Trajan asking him what to do with the large number of Christians who would not worship the old gods of the Romans, especially refusing to join in the cult of the Emperor.

We have a reference in Epictetus, a writer of that period, to the Christians, and we have a paragraph from Josephus who was present at Jerusalem when that city was destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D., besides a flood of references from writers who lived within a century of the time of the Apostles. Take it all in all, we have more evidence for the life of Christ outside of the New Testament than for the existence of any except very few of ancient times. But since we have the Gospels this outside evidence is needless. Here we have four contemporary documents, each written in a consistent style, and each in a style different from that of the others. Thus, the Gospel of Luke is written in long periodic sentences, evidently by a trained writer, while John is written in short sentences, evidently by a man whose education was delayed and who never dared to trust himself to the sweeping sentences so dear to the rhetorician. The style shows that we have four authors, and these four authors made no attempt to make their accounts coincide. They are telling the same story, but in different ways. Thus Matthew says that there was written on the cross: "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews." Mark says that on the cross was written: "The King of the Jews," leaving out the name of Jesus entirely. Luke says that the inscription was in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: "This is the King of the Jews." He inserts the words "This is" to the words of Mark, but he adds that the inscription was in three languages. While John does not name the language, he gives the inscription as "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." John is the only one to insert the word Nazareth, while both Luke and Mark omit even the name Jesus. Certainly, if a group of men had concocted the Gospels they would all have written in the same way so important a matter as the inscription on the cross. The reason is plain: the disciples at the cross were greatly excited and in great grief; some things they saw and remembered with clearness, others they did not. At that time no one of them expected ever to write this story; they did not take notes, but years later, each remembered the fact of the inscription and that Jesus was mocked by being called "King of the Jews." They all agree to that, but the rest was either vague or else forgotten.

All the Gospels tell the story of the trial, the crucifixion, and the resurrection in essentially the same way. These were facts that they could not misunderstand or forget. Except for these mighty truths, the four have little in common. Even so important a matter as the birth of Jesus is passed over in silence by Mark, who wrote the oldest Gospel, and by John, who wrote the latest. Matthew says that "Jesus taught many things in parables, and without a parable spake he not to them." Yet John who was closest to Jesus wrote an entire Gospel without quoting a single parable. Evidently there was no collusion between the authors of these two gospels.

It is the consensus of scholars that Mark is the oldest of the Gospels, and it is an axiom of criticism that writers who depend on any given document for what they write, may dilute, expand, or condense their source, but they never add anything of value to that original document. If the writers of the Gospel depended entirely on this oldest Gospel they could not hide that dependence.

We know that Matthew was a Jew, evidently in bitter trouble, so bitter that he took a job, the most despised in the world: he became a tax gatherer for a hated usurping foreign power, and wrung taxes from his poor countrymen to be sent to their masters. No wonder that when he saw a chance, not for something better but for any escape from what he was doing, he accepted it, and followed Jesus. Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus; he gives the account of five miracles, and he tells fourteen parables which are not in Mark. He is the only writer to give the Beatitudes and their larger setting in the Sermon on the Mount; also all the contents of that wonderful twenty-fifth chapter are found only in his story. That chapter gives the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the parable of the Ten Talents, and the words ending in the great conclusion: "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, my brethren, ye did it not to me." If Matthew, or the one whom Matthew is quoting, conceived and wrote the Sermon on the Mount and this twenty-fifth chapter, he is one of the greatest thinkers and literary artists that ever lived; but we have the best possible proof that he was nothing of the sort. He and Luke both tell of the attempt of the lawyer to tangle Jesus with hard questions. The lawyer begins by asking: "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" The answer ends with the famous verse: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Matthew stops right there; but Luke, the Greek, the literary Greek, continues the narrative by saying that the lawyer then asked Jesus: "And who is my neighbor?" And Jesus answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves." Then follows the great story of the good Samaritan, one of the finest stories known. Yet Matthew who heard it thought nothing of it. A man so lacking in literary appreciation was not likely to make up the Sermon on the Mount, or the great chapter which I have quoted.

If Luke depended on these two we should expect to see a restatement in other words of what he had found in Matthew and Mark, but here again we find a similar though different story. Luke alone tells us that Jesus was born in a manager. You would never suspect that from the account in Matthew. Luke alone repeats the song of the angels: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men." He alone tells the story of the Good Samatitan, and he alone tells the only story I know that can claim a place beside it, the story of the Prodigal Son. He is the only one who tells us that Jesus said on the cross: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," or his words to the thief: "This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise;" and the only one who repeats those other words: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." It seems to me that these few passages which I have quoted from Luke and which are in Luke alone, would place him among the very greatest writers of all time, if they were all his own. But if they are his own, he is a fraud, robbing himself of the glory he deserves, and he is using these noble ideas to fortify the imposture of another. Why should the Greek physician bestow all these treasures on the son of a Hebrew carpenter?

The last Gospel is by John. Most of that Gospel is a new story and shows other sides of the Savior. John alone repeats the words: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." It is hard for us to put ourselves back into the period before these words were uttered and to feel their force and novelty. Homer said: "The gods have decreed that poor mortals shall live in grief, while they themselves are free from sorrow." Herodotus, whom I love more than any other writer of Greece, said: "The gods allow no one to have high aspirations but themselves." Aristotle argued that there could be no affection between a superior and one vastly his inferior; that therefore love between God and man is impossible; that God cannot be interested in finite affairs, but must spend all his time in contemplating himself. This sentence in John, thrown off like a commonplace, with no arguing and no doubt of its truth, if it originated with John would make him one of the greatest thinkers of all times. But it is not the only great sentence, for soon there appears "God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth"; shortly to be followed by: "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." This sentence, in whole or in part, is the favorite motto of our universities. When Johns Hopkins University was founded a little over fifty years ago they tried to get a motto that would cover what this new university hoped to accomplish. At last they took this old and much used sentence, for nothing else seemed to express so well the real purpose of a university. It seems incredible that a man who was writing to support an impostor should have had the desire or the ability to give this mighty tribute to truth. Somehow this sentence was uttered and some one must have been the first to speak it. If Jesus did not utter it, who did?

Further, it is contrary to human nature that John could have made up and falsely put into the mouth of Jesus the words spoken just before his betrayal: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you," or those other words: "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." The words and their setting are in such terrible contrast. If John himself conceived these great ideas he deserves a place among the greatest thinkers of all time. But then he would be one of the greatest impostors,—an impostor who glorified righteousness and truth, two things in which an impostor never believes, and two things which he cannot comprehend.

Here we have four different writers, all showing by their language that they belong to the same century, all of them men of no outside renown, all presenting ideas unequaled by Socrates or by Plato, all giving the glory to another, and all making that other one the same person, Jesus Christ.

The things which they all tell in common and the things which but one tells, all unite in the one figure of Jesus, and they all agree in proving to me, at least, that they present a true picture of a real character. The very essence of greatness is that it should be honest. That one dishonest man should have pictured Jesus is thinkable, but that four dishonest men should agree in unity as well as in variety in imagining such a being is beyond the uttermost limits of reason.

There is a certain similarity between Socrates and Christ. Socrates realized that there is a moral law in the universe, that we are not helpless children of blind chance, that there is a soul in man and that the soul is of limitless worth, that above all and ruling over all there is a just power that rules in righteousness,—but it was all so hidden in darkness that despite his hope he constantly faltered. Even in those arguments just after his condemnation with which he consoled himself and his friends by reasonings for immortality, he used these sad words: "if indeed these things told us are true." Think of pillowing one's head in martyrdom on nothing more than an if!

Socrates felt that his sole superiority lay in the fact that he knew nothing and was aware of that ignorance; also that in spite of disappointment he continued the search for knowledge. Jesus never sought for knowledge or wisdom from anyone. He never used the words "I do not understand," or "I do not know." His very strongest authority was himself and his most emphatic utterance was "But I say unto you," and he even went so far as to claim that he was the very truth itself.

Socrates knew that he was but a simple and a mortal man, while Jesus never questioned or allowed others to question his own belief that he was divine. No one of the followers of Socrates ever claimed that he returned to them from the dead, while the disciples of Jesus who on that bitter Friday evening after Calvary abandoned all hope, lost faith in their Master, and started back to their old tasks, soon became the most enthusiastic of men, willing to go to prison or to death in the conviction that they had seen the risen Lord. The fact of this enthusiastic devotion and of their martyrdom is unquestioned; something made them change from despair to unflinching optimism, and no adequate reason for that change has ever been given except the reason which they themselves gave.

It takes less credulity to believe that Jesus was what he claimed to be than that he was not. It takes less blind faith to believe that the writers of the Gospels owed their greatness to Him rather than that He owed His greatness to them.

There are many parallels between the high and noble sentences uttered by Socrates and those of Jesus. Socrates believed that the first step in the pursuit of knowledge is the recognition of one's own ignorance and that humility is a sign of greatness. Jesus said "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," and "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven."

Socrates said that "Whatever a man might gain at the cost of his own moral nature is only loss." Jesus said: "For what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

Socrates said that truth is the great possession, not for any exterior advantage, but simply for its own sake. Jesus said, "The truth will make you free." Socrates argued that the soul is immortal and that a righteous soul will be rewarded with eternal blessedness. Jesus said, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." "And the righteous shall go into everlasting life."

Socrates said that in his zeal for truth he had sought no advantages for himself and had spent his life in poverty. Jesus said, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head."

Socrates said that he had never parted from that moral course which his reason had selected as the best. Jesus said: "Which of you convinceth me of sin?"

Socrates said: "We should injure no one however much that person has injured us." Jesus said: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you."

Socrates said that he had no fear of those who injured the body but could not injure the moral nature." Jesus said: "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul."

Socrates said to those who had accused him and to those who had condemned him that he cherished no ill-will against them. Jesus said: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

In these matters and thus far they agree, but Socrates has nothing to place beside any of the following, since they belong to another world: "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee, but that ye may know that the Son of man hath power to forgive sin, I say unto thee, arise, and take up thy bed and go into thine own house."

"All things are delivered unto me of my Father, and no man knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son shall reveal him. Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."

"When the Son of man shall come in his glory and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory."

"Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." This last verse is remarkable not only because of its assurance, but more than that, it is the first positive statement that God is best served by kindness to his creatures, even the humblest. This at last is the answer to the question asked by Socrates of the young man Euthyphro: "If service of the gods does not benefit the gods, just what is its purpose?"

There is nothing in Socrates like the following: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am."

"All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth, and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."

"One of the crucified thieves said unto Jesus, 'Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.'

"Jesus said unto him, 'Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise."'

Three crosses stood side by side suspending three wretches, all alike condemned as felons to a disgraceful and inhuman death. One of these writhing figures answered the jeers of the mob with curses, one began to pray, and one assumed to throw open the gates of Paradise. What a contrast!

And, again, there is no parallel in Socrates to the following: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

The woman said unto him, "I know that Messias cometh, which is called the Christ; when he is come, he will tell us all things."

Jesus saith unto her, "I that speak unto thee am he."

Then Martha said unto Jesus, "Lord if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died."

Jesus said unto her, "Thy brother shall rise again."

Martha said unto him, "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

Jesus said unto her, "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live."

No wonder that the officers answered and said, "Never man spake like this man." No wonder that Peter answered, "Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God," and no wonder that those who had known him best endured persecution "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name."

My great teacher, Professor Gildersleeve, said that "Socrates reached an arm's length toward Christ,—it was only an arm's length, but it was toward Christ." It is just this fact, that the greatest man of the most intellectual city and at its most exalted period saw but dimly and partially that which Jesus saw so clearly and so completely and with such assurance, which has strengthened my faith that the carpenter of Nazareth and the companion of simple men of lowly Galilee must have been something more than a man.

J. B. Bury (essay date 1935)

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SOURCE: "The Life and Death of Socrates," in The Cambridge Ancient History, edited by J. B. Bury, S. A. Cook, and F. E. Adcock, Cambridge University Press, 1935, pp. 386-97.

[Below, Bury briefly surveys the life of Socrates as presented in the dialogues and Apology of Plato, highlighting some of the philosopher's most significant philosophical views in the process.]

The book of Xenophon on the life and teaching of Socrates, known as the Memorabilia, would, if it stood alone, give us little idea of what Socrates was like, and no idea of the secret of his greatness. Xenophon belonged (probably for a very short time) to the Socratic circle, but he had no notion of what philosophy really means and but a slight first-hand knowledge of the master. He produced a portrait such as a journalist with a commonplace mind might contribute to a gallery of 'good men,' and in his endeavour to show that Socrates was a good man he succeeds in concealing the fact that he was a great man. Most of the anecdotes he tells are uninstructive or insignificant, and some, as edifying stories are apt to be, simply tedious, like the remonstrances of Socrates with his son Lamprocles who could not put up with the rough side of his mother Xanthippe's tongue. Discerning as Xenophon was in many practical things he displays conspicuous want of discernment here: and for appreciating the personality of Socrates his book is almost negligible, while for most of the bare external incidents of his life that are interesting and which a biographer ought to supply, we go to him in vain1. He was not present at the trial of Socrates.

It is in the Dialogues of his companion Plato that a figure probably resembling the real Socrates appears. There we find his animae figura, his mind and methods, and the features of his personality, and also many details of his life. At all events, it is very difficult to resist the impression that the Platonic Socrates is a genuine life-like portrait of the original man, however unsocratically Platonic may be the argument and ideas of which he is made the spokesman.

Socrates was born about 470 B.C., and since he served as a hoplite he must have inherited some property from his father, Sophroniscus. He is said to have possessed a house and a capital sum of 70 minae which was invested for him by his friend Crito, who belonged to the same deme (Alopece). He witnessed the development of the Athenian democracy under Pericles and lived through the Peloponnesian War, serving in some of the earlier campaigns. He was a man of strong physical constitution, and of eccentric appearance and habits. His features are well known from portrait busts which are probably faithful enough to reality. With his flat nose and prominent eyes he was compared by his contemporaries to a satyr. He was subject to trances of meditation; when rapt in thought he would stand for hours, unconscious of what was going on around him. He said that from his childhood he used to hear from time to time the monition of an inner voice; its monitions were always negative, never prompting him to an action, but always restraining him from doing things.

What we know of the external events of his life is not a great deal but it is interesting. In his youth he was a pupil of Archelaus, who was a disciple of Anaxagoras, and accompanied him to Samos in 440 B.C. when the Athenians were blockading it. In 437-6 B.C. he may have served as hoplite at Amphipolis,2 and in 432 B.C. he served at Potidaea; again in 424 B.C. at Delium where he exhibited remarkable presence of mind in the retreat. On these military occasions he showed extraordinary powers of endurance in sustaining cold, hunger, and fatigue; barefooted in a severe frost he could outmarch the other soldiers who were shod.

Perhaps3 it was not till he was an elderly man that he was called upon to perform any public duty, beyond serving in the army. In 406 B.C. he was a member of the Council of Five Hundred, being one of the fifty representatives of his tribe (Antiochis). It was the year of Arginusae, and when the unhappy Generals were tried, Socrates was the only member who stood out in refusing to agree with the illegal resolution that all should be tried together. Under the Thirty he risked his life by refusing to carry out an order which was illegal. In all the public affairs in which he happened to be concerned he displayed moral and physical courage and respect for the laws of his city. Thus remarkable for courage and justice, Socrates was no less distinguished for his sobriety and temperance, but he was not an ascetic nor a spoilsport. He would take part in potations, but his head was strong, and he was never the worse for them.

Athenians had taken no part in the scientific speculations which had been so vigorously pursued by men of Ionia and in far western Greece. Archelaus, the instructor of Socrates, was the earliest, and not a very eminent exception. The sharp intellectual curiosity of Socrates was accompanied by a sane spirit of scepticism which was confirmed by the influence of Zeno. He cannot have been much over twenty when he came under that influence which was powerful in determining the direction of his thought. Parmenides, with his young friend Zeno, may have visited Athens not long after 450 B.C. and, if so, every Athenian of inquiring mind was interested in their visit. In any case, Zeno seems to have resided at Athens for several years; he was the inventor of dialectic and Socrates learned his method.

In the course of time a small circle of friends gathered around Socrates, drawn to him by the stimulus of his conversation. Knowledge he consistently professed himself unable to impart, and these friends were associated with him not as disciples but as fellow-inquirers. Their inquiries appear to have been chiefly concerned with mathematical and physical questions, the doctrines of Anaxagoras and Archelaus and Diogenes of Apollonia and of Pythagoras. In fact during the first half of his life the studies of Socrates were devoted chiefly to physical science; it was in his later years that he turned to the logical and ethical problems with which we chiefly associate his name.

Socrates and his circle became notorious in Athens as the Thinkers …, and comic poets seized on them as an obvious and legitimate subject for ridicule. In 423 B.C. Ameipsias produced his Connus, in which the chorus consisted of Thinkers and Socrates was derided, and in the same year was acted the Clouds of Aristophanes in which the scene was laid in the Thinking-shop … of Socrates and his fellow-workers.

The most devoted in this group of students was a certain Chaerephon who adored Socrates so sincerely that he went to Delphi and put to the oracle the amazing question 'Is any man wiser than Socrates?' More amazing still was the categorical answer of the oracle, without any reservations, 'No one is wiser.' Socrates said that he was greatly puzzled by this reply, being acutely conscious how little he knew. If the oracle were true, it must mean that others were not so wise as they seemed, or imagined themselves to be; and in order to test its truth, he states that he went about questioning and cross-examining persons who were eminent as proficients in their special subjects—politicians, poets, handicraftsmen. None of them stood the test; they were all convinced that they were wise, but none possessed more wisdom than Socrates himself, but he was superior in that he was fully aware of his own ignorance. In this way the oracle was justified. We do not know at what time it was given, but in the later portion of his life Socrates seems to have spent much of his time, not only in his accustomed haunts, the gymnasia of the Academy and the Lyceum, but also in the market-place and the workshops of artisans, cross-examining people and exposing their erroneous convictions that they were wise, thus fulfilling, as he put it, a duty imposed upon him by the god. Defending himself at his trial he said 'People suppose that I am wise myself in those things in which I convict another of ignorance. They are mistaken. The god alone is wise, and his oracle declares that human wisdom is worth little or nothing, using the name of Socrates as an example. That man is wisest who like Socrates knows that he is worthless so far as wisdom is concerned. The disgraceful ignorance is to think you know that you do not know.' Sceptical as Socrates was and always careful to appeal to reason, we cannot fail to see, in some parts of his defence, that there was a side of his nature which was moved by reasons that reason does not know.

In all ages of active progress, the warfare between the ideas and fashions of a young critical generation, and the old strongly entrenched opinions and customs which the innovators mock and assail, always presents amusing and humorous pictures which can furnish material for comedy. Comic poets can laugh impartially at the extravagances and the prejudices of both the combatants. If Aristophanes held up to ridicule the scientific Thinkers and the modern critics of society, he did not spare the praisers of the past, the old fogies whose ideas are out of date … who bore you with faded memories of the veterans of Marathon, and descant on bygone virtues and modern degeneracy.

We are told nothing of personal relations between Socrates and Pericles, but it is difficult to think that they were not acquainted. Socrates, though he belonged to a different class of society, had such a high repute as a thinker and talker that he could hardly have failed to arouse the curiosity and interest of Pericles, and they had many common friends. On the other hand, we hear of an intimacy between Socrates and Aspasia,4 who, it was even supposed, gave him instruction in the art of rhetoric.

Though Socrates consistently disclaimed the possession of knowledge and therefore of the power of imparting it, he was a master of dialectic, for which he had a natural gift, and he was really teaching all the time, disguising the instruction and the ideas which he communicated under the form of question and answer. Many young men attached themselves to him and were his constant companions, and among them were the men, both Athenians and foreigners, who in the next generation were to be the great thinkers of Greece, the founders of philosophical schools, each emphasizing according to his own temperament a different side of the master's teaching. Plato, son of Ariston, the greatest of them all; Antisthenes, a poor man, who founded the school of the Cynics, which was the parent of Stoicism; Aristippus of Cyrene, whose Cyrenaic school was to be the parent of Epicureanism; Eucleides of Megara; Phaedo of Eretria; Aeschines, generally called 'the Socratic,' to distinguish him from Aeschines the orator. Thus Socrates was in some sense the ancestor of all the later philosophies of Greece. Outside this circle of companions, who were virtually disciples, his society was sought by men who were not interested much in philosophical questions but who were interested in listening to him cross-examining people and perhaps hoped to learn the secret of his skill. Two of the most distinguished were the versatile man of letters, Critias, and Alcibiades, of whom the second was an ardent admirer and an intimate friend of the philosopher. It was natural that Socrates should, in the popular mind, have to bear some ill fame for associating with these enemies of the democracy and be held responsible for their mischievous conduct. Although he was always loyal to existing authorities he never concealed his unfavourable opinion of democracy, which must have seemed to him an irrational form of government; Alcibiades called it bluntly 'acknowledged folly5.'

Throughout the Peloponnesian War Socrates had with perfect impunity pursued his unpopular mission. But under the restored democracy it seemed to some of the democratic leaders that he was a dangerous and insidious anti-democratic influence and that it was desirable to silence him. The fact that he had remained at Athens unharmed during the government of the Thirty could not be made a charge against him on account of the amnesty. As a matter of fact he had barely escaped with his life from the despotism of the Thirty. Two of these oligarchs had been his friends, Critias the leader, and Charmides the uncle of Plato, and knowing that he was no admirer of the democracy they thought they were sure of his adhesion. They did not realize the unshakable strength of his respect for law and his love of justice. But they would not tolerate free speech and Critias thought it well to warn the philosopher that his discussions with the young men who sought his society must cease, and the government then made an effort to associate him with their unjust and tyrannous acts. The tyrants ordered him and four others to go to Salamis and arrest there a certain Leon whom they had resolved to put to death. Socrates said nothing and simply went home. He would have been executed for his disobedience to the government, if it had not fallen. This notorious incident however did not convince the people in power that Socrates stood quite outside party sympathies, and cared only for justice and right. They considered him disloyal to democracy, and that his criticisms were more to be feared than the plots of an oligarchical conspirator. It was therefore deemed highly desirable to rid Athens of a citizen whose influence and fearless tongue were felt to be a danger, though he took no part in politics and was the least likely of men to do anything contrary to the law. Anytus, an honest and moderate democrat and at this moment perhaps the most important Athenian statesman next to Thrasybulus, was the prime mover in preparing a prosecution intended to silence the embarrassing philosopher. No one was more determined than Anytus to observe honestly and to interpret strictly the terms of the amnesty; so that he was concerned carefully to keep out of sight the political motive for the action. He decided that the best ground of attacking Socrates successfully would be irreligion; it was common knowledge that the philosopher was far from orthodox. Accordingly an arrangement was made with a minor poet named Meletus, who was a fanatical champion of religion,6 that he should bring against Socrates a public suit for irreligion … and that Anytus should support it by acting as an advocate for the prosecution.… Anytus associated with himself a second advocate, a rhetorician named Lycon of whom otherwise we know nothing.

Legal actions having to do with religion came into the court of the King archon. The charge which Meletus lodged against Socrates was formulated thus: 'Socrates is guilty of not worshipping the gods whom the city worships, and of introducing religious novelties. He is guilty also of corrupting the young men.' This accusation seems to prove that neglect of the worship of the gods was an indictable offence under the laws of Solon; for no one could now be indicted under the decree of Diopeithes which had been passed to meet the case of Anaxagoras, inasmuch as the effect of the settlement of 403 B.C. was that no prosecution could be based solely on one decree passed before that date.…

Meletus, in the writ of indictment, named death as the penalty which he demanded, for irreligion was one of the offences for which there was no punishment fixed by the code; the court itself determined the penalty on each occasion. But the court was limited to a choice between two penalties, that which was demanded by the prosecutor and one which it was the right of the prisoner himself to propose in case he were found guilty. It was the prisoner's interest to name a substantial penalty milder than that named in the indictment, yet not so light that it could not be entertained by the jury. A result of this curious judicial method was that the prosecutor generally assessed a penalty greater than he expected or wished to inflict. This is emphatically a case in point. There is no reason to suppose that Anytus wished Socrates to be put to death. It was doubtless expected that if he were convicted he would, as he had a right to do, propose exile as an alternative penalty and the court would assuredly be satisfied with that. To have him out of Athens was the object.

Our knowledge of this famous trial is derived from one of the most memorable and impressive books in the literature of the world, Plato's Apology of Socrates. The view that it was Plato's own composition used generally to be held although it was never doubted that it was based on the facts of the trial, but some critics now believe that it is the actual speech of Socrates, edited by Plato for publication, and as near to what was said as, say, a speech of Demosthenes or Cicero in its published form to the speech the orator actually delivered. The truth probably lies between these two views. We cannot suppose that the prisoner was allowed to make an address to the court after the sentence was passed. The epilogue is an addition imagined by Plato, an artistic and moving conclusion. If this is admitted, it must also be allowed that Plato may have taken other liberties with the Defence; he may have left out parts of it and considerably expanded other parts. The most grave and perilous of the charges brought against Socrates was that of being a corrupter of youth. That would count for much with the judges because they knew that leading politicians who were enemies of the democracy had cultivated his society—Critias, Alcibiades, Charmides. But this was just the proof of the accusation which Meletus and his two advocates were prohibited from touching on. The amnesty forbade them to pronounce these names. They must however have made an attempt to show in what ways the conversation of Socrates misled and injured the young men. Of this there are no indications in the Defence according to Plato, nor can we discover from that defence how Meletus explained what were the strange religious practices which he alleged that Socrates introduced, as he assuredly must have done, producing some proof of his statements. It seems to follow that the Apology does not supply a full account of the trial.7

Socrates was found guilty by a majority of 60 votes, for he mentions in his Defence that he would have been acquitted if 30 of the votes recorded against him had been for acquittal. It is probable, though not certain, that the number of Athenians in the jury appointed by the king to try the case was 501. If that was so, 225 must have voted in his favour, and it is quite likely that he would have been acquitted if he had assumed a different attitude and had really been concerned to secure a verdict of 'not guilty.' But he adopted throughout a very high tone, which was far from calculated to conciliate the court though he expressed himself with his usual urbanity and politeness. He had not condescended to make the conventional appeal to pity by bringing into court his wife and children to excite the compassion of the judges by family tears, as was almost invariably done by prisoners tried on a grave issue, and the omission of which many of the judges might consider an affront to themselves.

When the verdict of his guilt was pronounced, it was for Socrates to submit a punishment less drastic than death, and there can be no question that he could have saved his life if he had proposed banishment. But Socrates was not as other men. His tone now became higher than ever and to the ears of his judges more offensive. 'Meletus,' he said, 'assesses the penalty at death. What fair counter-assessment then shall I make, Athenians? What do I deserve to suffer, or what fine to pay, because during my life I would not keep quiet, but neglecting the things that most people care for—making money, managing their property, public offices and political clubs—I considered myself really too good for such things, and instead of entering upon these ways of life in which I should have been no good either to you or to myself I set myself on the way of benefaction, to confer the greatest of all benefactions as I assert, by attempting to persuade each of you individually not to care for any of his own belongings before he cares for himself—for his being as good and as wise as possible, nor for any of the city's belongings before he cares for the city, and on the same principle in all other matters. What then do I deserve for this? Something good surely, Athenians, and a good that would be suitable to me personally, suitable to a poor man who is a benefactor and requires leisure. There is nothing so suitable than that such a man should have free commons in the Prytaneum, far more than for one of you who has won a victory at Olympia in a horse-race or a chariot-race; because while he makes you appear happy, I make you be happy, and he does not need public support while I do. Accordingly, if I am to propose what I deserve, I propose that my sentence be free board in the Prytaneum.' This was not calculated to conciliate the judges; it was an undisguised 'contempt of court' and was quite unnecessary; it seemed as if the prisoner was determined to make it certain that he should be condemned to death. Having by this digression done what he could to dispose the judges against him he returned to business and considered possible penalties which the court might accept. He knew quite well that banishment would probably be considered adequate. 'Perhaps,' he said, 'banishment is what you think I deserve. Yet I should be fond indeed of life, Athenians, if I were so poor a reckoner as to calculate that if you who are my fellow citizens could not put up with my lectures and discourses, and if they have become so onerous and offensive, that you are now wishing to rid yourselves of them, other people will readily tolerate them. Nay, a fine life I should have, leaving my own city at my age and moving from one city to another and continually being driven out. I know that wheresoever I came the young men would listen to my talk as they do here. If I repulse them they will persuade the older men to expel me, and if I do not, their fathers and relatives will do so for their sakes.

'But it will be said: But, Socrates, when you leave Athens, why not keep quiet and hold your tongue? This is just what is so difficult to make you understand. To do that would be to disobey the god, and therefore it is impossible to keep quiet. When I say this, you will not believe me, you will take it as irony. And again if I say that a man's greatest good is to debate every day concerning virtue and the other things you hear me discussing and cross-examining myself and others about, and that the life which is not tested and proved by such examination is not worth living—when I say this, still less do you believe me to be in earnest. If I had money I should be ready to offer all I have as a fine; paying it would do me no harm. I could pay a mina. Plato, however, and Crito and two other friends bid me name 30 minae and will stand as sureties for the payment. They are solvent. So I propose this fine.'

The majority voted for death and this majority was greater than the previous one. We can understand that the tone which Socrates had adopted caused resentment among some of those who had originally voted for acquittal. One knows the type of persons who would be reasonable and fair enough to see that the accuser had failed to prove his case and would vote accordingly, yet would feel it an outrage that any prisoner should value his life so little as to neglect all the customary and obvious methods of trying to save it and take no trouble to conciliate the judges. Such an attitude was indecent and dangerous. If prisoners were not afraid of death, what could any one do? Socrates, it almost seemed, was so impertinent as to reverse the rôles of judge and accused; he had treated them as if it was they who were on trial, and had gone too far in his insolent assumption that he was a great and good man.

A month intervened between the sentence and the execution, because it happened to be the feast of the Delian Apollo when every year Athens sent a ship to Delos, and the law was that from the time the ship set sail till it returned to the Piraeus the city should not be polluted by any death inflicted by the authority of the State. The ship had been adorned with the official garlands on the day before the trial of Socrates, and, as it turned out, a month elapsed before it returned, a month which he had to spend in the public prison in chains. He seems to have been treated there with much consideration; the overseer of the prison was a humane man and did what he could to make the confinement as little irksome as possible. His friends came daily to visit him and his last days were passed in philosophical discussion. Some of his companions, particularly Crito, urged him to escape; a plan was prepared, and there is little doubt that it could easily have been managed; even the authorities might not have been very unwilling to connive; but Socrates refused to consent. It had always been his principle to obey the laws and had he not been legally condemned? And to flee from prison and death would have been glaringly inconsistent with his own attitude at the trial and rendered it obviously absurd. If to live was such an important consideration as to prompt escape, which meant abiding in exile, he ought clearly to have proposed exile as the alternative penalty.

The last hours and death of Socrates have been described by Plato in his Phaedo. His friends were with him to the end, and he was killed by the painless method of a draught of hemlock poison which produced a gradual paralysis. It is the one famous execution, recorded in history, of which the circumstances are quite ideal; the end of Socrates is marred, for our memory, by no violence or shedding of blood; and modern critics have often praised the Athenians for their humane methods of punishment. But it would be an error to suppose that the ways of brutal evil-doers at Athens were made so easy for them, or that robbers and assassins were treated like Socrates. It is not long ago since excavations near Phalerum revealed8 evidence that the Athenians used to inflict punishments which in agony rivalled crucifixion and hardly fell short of Assyrian atrocity. We do not know on what principle or in what cases execution by hemlock was adopted.

Among the companions of Socrates his memory was piously cherished, while they were stirred by a deep resentment against the democracy of Athens for the crime of his death. Seen through their eyes, the trial of Socrates by a jury of average practical citizens at the prosecution of an honest politician seems as absurd an event as, to use Plato's comparison, the trial of a physician in a court of little boys at the instance of a confectioner. The great memorial of Socrates is the body of Plato's works; no other man has had a more wonderful monument. Having described the last moments of his master, Plato wrote, 'Such was the end of our friend, whom I may truly call the wisest, the justest and the best of all the men I have ever known.' In the study of his imagination the revered master grew into the ideal figure of a perfect philosopher and as such has passed into history. The tragedy changed the course of Plato's own life. He had always meant to enter political life. The behaviour of the oligarchs during their short tenure of power, in which his relatives Critias and Charmides had been conspicuous, disgusted him so deeply that he was probably inclined to support the democracy, but the crowning injustice of the condemnation of Socrates decided him to abandon the idea of a political career. More than forty years later, in a letter addressed to 'the friends and associates' of Dion of Syracuse, he recalled his experience at this time, and his decision to embrace a life of philosophy. This is what he says9: 'Socrates an elderly friend of mine who, I should not be ashamed to say, was the justest man among the men of the time, was sent with others by the Thirty to arrest one of the citizens, to be executed, in order that he (Socrates) might himself share in their actions whether he wished it or not; he refused and ran the extreme risk, rather than become a participant in their wicked deeds. Seeing all these things, and other similar things which were not trifling, I was disgusted and withdrew and stood aloof from the crimes of that Government. Not long afterwards the Thirty fell and the existing constitution was changed. I felt myself again drawn though slowly towards public life. The new Government had merits, though it had also defects, but it so happened that this companion of ours, Socrates, was brought into court by certain men who were in power. They preferred against him a most wicked charge and one which was least applicable to Socrates of all men in the world. They accused him of impiety, and he was condemned and put to death, the man who had refused to take part in the wicked arrest of one of their friends who was trying to flee at the time when they were themselves unfortunate.'

He goes on to explain how this experience of the new democracy finally decided him to give up the idea of a political career.

How great Socrates was as an original thinker, whether he can be set beside Pythagoras, for instance, is a question that is open to dispute, and depends much on the view that is taken of the Platonic Dialogues.… But there can be only one opinion as to the greatness and the unique quality of his personality, and his unrivalled power as a stimulator of thought. The Athenians, with the exception of his personal friends, were quite unconscious of his greatness. Posterity looks back at him as the most remarkable figure of the Illumination; the contemporary man in the market-place of Athens probably remembered him merely as an eccentric Sophist. One can imagine what he would have said: 'Socrates—yes, an incessant talker, who fancied himself as a good-mixer. He was really an expert bore preaching for ever about virtue and other wearisome things. He got at last what he probably had richly deserved.'


1 This has been shown by A. E. Taylor, Plato's Biography of Socrates, pp. 35 sqq.

2 See Burnet's note on Plato's Apology, 28 E, p. 120.

3 Perhaps; for it is possible that he served on the Council before 406, at some unknown date; see Burnet in his edition of Plato's Apology, p. 133.

4 Aeschines wrote a Socratic dialogue Aspasia. See also the Menexenus which U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff has ingeniously defended as Platonic (Platon, 11, pp. 126 sqq.).

5 Thucydides VI, 89, in the speech at Sparta, probably a genuine phrase of Alcibiades.

6 There is a difference of opinion on the identity of this Meletus with the man who later in the same year, 399 B.C., prosecuted Andocides for impiety and part of whose speech is preserved among the works of Lysias (Or. VI). That two men of this name should have brought actions for impiety—such actions were not very frequent nor was the name very common—in the same year seems unlikely. It is interesting to observe that in this trial also Anytus was concerned, not however on the side of Meletus, but as a witness for Andocides, and his evidence seems to have secured an acquittal.

7 Cp. Bury, Trial of Socrates, in Rationalist Press Annual, 1925, where it is argued that one or two points in the speech of defence may be got from Xenophon's Apology, that the speech of Anytus followed the speech of Meletus and dealt with the charge of corruption of the young men, while Meletus mainly confined himself to the charges of irreligion, and it is suggested that some of the points which Anytus made may possibly be gathered from the declamation (Apologia Socratis) in which Libanius replied to the attack on Socrates by the sophist Polycrates.

8 Compare A. D. Keramopoullos.…

9 Plato, Ep. VII, 324 E-325 c.

A. E. Taylor (essay date 1951)

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SOURCE: "The Thought of Socrates," in Socrates, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 138-83.

[In the following essay, Taylor asserts that Socrates significantly influenced the development of European thought by creating the concept of the soul "which has ever since dominated European thinking." Taylor differentiates between the "psyche" as described by Homer and the Orphic and Pythagorean traditions before Socrates, and goes on to examine the Socratic mission of caring for the soul in order to perfect it. Taylor then surveys and interprets Socrates's moral teachings, his theory of knowledge, and his scientific method.]

What is the real significance of Socrates in the history of European thought? We may at once dismiss two views which have sometimes been held on this question as incapable of explaining the facts which need to be accounted for. Socrates was not a mere preacher of a commonplace morality of acting like an homme de bien for the utilitarian reason that bad ways 'do not pay'—a view of him suggested by undue attention to certain parts of Xenophon's Memorabilia. Such a man would hardly have been put to death as a public danger; he would not have won the devotion of Plato, nor the general admiration of all the outstanding men of his age, or been caricatured as he was actually caricatured by Aristophanes. You may say Anytus misunderstood his man, Plato 'idealized' him, Aristophanes distorted his features. But there must have been something to prompt the misunderstanding, the idealization, the distortion. The subject of them must have been in some way an extraordinary, in fact a singular character, an 'original,' and we have to discover in what his singularity consisted. Nor can Socrates have been what he has sometimes been taken to be by superficial readers of Plato, a mere sceptic, quick at disturbing the convictions of others by ingenious questions, but without convictions, and intense convictions, of his own. Mere clever scepticism is as ephemeral in its results as it is temporarily dazzling; Socrates created the intellectual and moral tradition by which Europe has ever since lived. How this could be is what has to be explained.

At bottom the answer seems to be a very simple one, and it may best be given in the elementary way in which it has been stated by Burnet.' It was Socrates who, so far as can be seen, created the conception of the soul which has ever since dominated European thinking. For more than two thousand years it has been the standing assumption of the civilized European man that he has a soul, something which is the seat of his normal waking intelligence and moral character, and that, since this soul is either identical with himself or at any rate the most important thing about him, his supreme business in life is to make the most of it and do the best for it. There are, of course, a minority of persons who reject this theory of life, and some of them even deny the existence of a soul, but they are a small minority; to the vast mass of Europeans, to this day, the existence and the importance of the soul is a doctrine so familiar that it seems self-evident. The direct influence, indeed, which has done most to make the doctrine so familiar to ourselves is that of Christianity—but when Christianity came to the Graeco-Roman world it found the general conception of the soul which it needed already prepared for it by philosophy. Now the remarkable thing is that we find this conception of the soul as the seat of normal intelligence and character current in the literature of the generation immediately subsequent to the death of Socrates; it is common ground to Isocrates, Plato, and Xenophon, and thus cannot be the discovery of any one of them. But it is wholly, or all but wholly, absent from the literature of earlier times. It must thus have originated with some contemporary of Socrates, and we know of no contemporary thinker to whom it can be attributed other than Socrates himself, who is consistently made to teach it in the pages of both Plato and Xenophon.

Of course, we hear frequently enough in Greek literature, from Homer onward, of a thing which is called the psyche. But the important point is that there is perhaps no single passage in the earlier literature in which pysche means what soul has meant to us for so many centuries, the conscious personality which may be wise or foolish, virtuous or vicious, according to the 'tendance' and discipline it gets. In the earlier literature psyche regularly means one of two things, neither identical with what we have been taught to call the soul, according as the word is being used with associations derived from Homer or from Orphic religion.

In Homer the psyche means quite literally the ghost. It is something which is present in a man so long as he lives, and leaves him at death. It is, in fact, the 'ghost' which the dying man 'gives up.' But it is not the self; for Homer the 'hero himself,' as distinguished from his psyche, is his body. Though a man cannot live when his psyche has left him, the psyche is never thought of as having anything to do with the 'mental life,' as we now call it; that is carried on, in Homer's language, by the kear, heart, or the phrenes, midriff, both bodily organs. And the psyche which has left the body has no consciousness whatsoever, any more than a man's shadow or his reflection in a pool; all that the departed psyche can do is to be seen from time to time in the dreams of the living. It is thus, at bottom, no more than the 'breath' which a man draws while he is alive and exhales finally when he 'expires.' Ionic science, in its account of the psyche, starts from these conceptions and carries the de-individualization of psyche still further. Its reigning view is that my psyche is simply that part of the ambient 'air' which I inhale. 'Air' is itself a 'god,' and so is conscious, and that is why I am conscious just so long as I can continue to replenish my system with fresh portions of 'the god.' When I 'breathe my last,' the divine air in me simply goes back again to mingle with the common stock of the 'air' in the world at large; there is no real and permanent individual bearer of my 'personality.' (In the philosophy of Heraclitus, indeed, we can see that the 'soul'—which he supposed to be not 'air' but 'fire'—was very important, but it is a standing contradiction in his thinking that it at once has got to possess some sort of permanent individuality, in order to pass through the vicissitudes of birth, death, and re-birth, and yet is only a temporarily detached portion of the cosmic 'fire.')

In the Orphic religion, on the other hand, as in the kindred religion of the early Pythagoreans, the psyche is a more important thing. It has a permanent individuality, and is consequently immortal, and, in fact, a temporarily 'fallen' and exiled divinity. The great concern of the devotee is to practise rules of life, partly moral, partly ceremonial, which will lead to the final deliverance of the psyche from the 'wheel of birth,' and its restoration to its place among the gods. But it is not the soul, if by the soul we mean 'that within us'—to use the words of Socrates in Plato—'in virtue of which we are pronounced wise or foolish, good or bad.' It is supposed by the Orphics to manifest its activity just when what we should call the 'normal' waking self is in abeyance—in dreams, visions, trances. As Pindar puts it, '[the psyche] sleeps while the members are active, but in men's sleep it bodes forth in many a dream the impending issues of weal and woe.'2My intelligence and my character thus do not belong to the psyche in me, and its immortality, important as it is held by the Orphic to be, is not, properly speaking, my immortality. Where the psyche is spoken of, exceptionally, in earlier literature as the source of any actions in the everyday waking life, it is commonly mentioned in connection with the freakish appetites of which sober sense disapproves.3 It seems certain that at Athens in the fifth century the word psyche suggested to the ordinary man no more than 'ghost' does to us, and this is why Aristophanes in the Clouds talks about Socrates and his companions as sophaipsukhai—he means to suggest that the life of these 'thinkers' is no better than that of so many 'ghosts.' So philopsukhia, concern for one's psyche, meant the cowardly hanging on to 'dear life' which leads a man to 'funk' in the field.

Clearly, what is needed for the development of a 'spiritual' morality and religion is that the Orphic insistence on the supreme importance of 'concern for the interests of the psyche' shall be combined with the identification of this supremely precious psyche with the seat of normal personal intelligence and character. This is just the step which is taken in the doctrine of the soul taught by Socrates in both Plato and Xenophon, and it is by this breach with the Orphic tradition as much as by giving the conduct of life the central place which earlier thinkers had given to astronomy or biology that Socrates, in the hackneyed Ciceronian phrase, 'brought philosophy down from heaven to earth.' In other words, what he did was definitely to create philosophy as something distinct at once from natural science and from theosophy, or any amalgam of the two, and to effect this result once for all. The soul, as he conceives of it, has all the importance and the permanent individuality of the Orphic psyche. For reasons already given, it seems plain to me that we must believe Plato's representations about his Master's firm conviction of the soul's immortality, and in the mouth of a Greek this means its essential divinity. This is the real justification of a mission to preach to all men, in season and out of season, the single duty of 'tending the soul,' and 'making it as good as possible,' whatever the cost to one's fortunes or one's body. But the identification of the soul which it is our first duty to 'tend' with the normal self means, of course, that the 'tendance' will not consist in the practice of ritual abstentions and purifications, but in the cultivation of rational thinking and rational conduct. A man's duty will be to be able to 'give account' of, to have a rational justification for, what he believes and what he does. It is precisely by asserting and doing that for which we can give no rational justification that we display our indifference to the duty of 'tending' our souls. This is why when Socrates came to discharge his mission his first task was to convict the unenlightened of 'ignorance,' to show them how little intelligent justification they have for what they do or believe.

This Socratic doctrine of the soul, we must note, is neither psychology, in our sense of the word, nor psycho-physics. It tells us nothing on the question what the soul is, except that it is 'that in us, whatever it is, in virtue of which we are denominated wise and foolish, good and evil,' and that it cannot be seen or apprehended by any of the senses. It is no doctrine of the 'faculties' of the soul, any more than of its 'substance.' The thought is that the 'work' or 'function' of this divine constituent in man is just to know, to apprehend things as they really are, and consequently, in particular, to know good and evil, and to direct or govern a man's acts so that they lead to a life in which evil is avoided and good achieved. What Socrates is concerned with is thus neither speculative nor empirical psychology,4 but a common principle of epistemology and ethics. To 'make the soul as good as possible' would be on the one side to attain the knowledge of existence as it really is, on the other to base one's moral conduct on a true knowledge of 'moral values.' In both spheres the one thing to be overcome is the putting of 'opinion,' 'fancy' (doxa), assumptions which cannot be justified as true, in the place of knowledge. As science is ruined by the confusion of fancy with fact, so practical life is spoiled by a false estimate of good. We have now to see how this conception of knowledge of the truth as the one supreme business of the soul, and therefore of man, works out into the beginnings of a theory both of science and of moral conduct. We night be confident, even without the plain indications of Plato to guide us, that Socrates' interest in the scientific problem belongs more particularly to the earlier part of his life, and that the ethical side of his thinking must have been almost exclusively dominant in the later years devoted to his mission to mankind. But we shall take the two things in the reverse order, in view of the much more general consensus of scholars on the characteristic features of the Socratic ethic.

1. Ethics.

—When Aristotle has occasion to speak of the distinctive moral teaching of Socrates, he ascribes to him three special tenets, all at first sight paradoxical: (a) virtue, moral excellence, is identical with knowledge, and for that reason, all the commonly discriminated virtues are one thing; (b) vice, bad moral conduct, is therefore in all cases ignorance, intellectual error; (c) wrong-doing is therefore always involuntary, and there is really no such state of soul as that which Aristotle himself calls 'moral weakness' (acrasia), 'knowing the good and yet doing the evil.' Aristotle pretty clearly took these statements directly from his reading of one particular great dialogue of Plato, the Protagoras, where they are all to be found, but they fairly describe the substance of what Socrates has to say about morality in the dialogues of Plato's earlier period, and they all reappear in a more commonplace form in the Memorabilia of Xenophon. We shall have the key to them if we can discover the point of view from which they cease to be paradoxes and begin to appear obvious.

We may most conveniently start with what appears to be the most violent paradox of all, the assertion that all wrong-doing is involuntary. 'Moral weakness,' the fact that men do what they themselves confess to be wrong, and that they do so without any forcing, is one of the most familiar facts of experience, and we are not to suppose that Socrates means to deny this. He means to say that the popular phrase we have just used gives an inadequate analysis of the fact. A man often enough does evil in spite of the fact that it is evil; no man ever does evil simply because he sees it to be evil, as a man may do good simply because he sees it to be good. A man has temporarily to sophisticate himself into regarding evil as good before he will choose to do it. As it is put in the Gorgias, there is one fundamental desire which is ineradicable in all of us: the desire for good or happiness. It is possible, in the case of all other objects, to prefer the appearance to the reality, the outward show, e.g. of power, or wealth, to the thing itself, but no one can wish for the show of good or happiness rather than the reality: this is the one case where the shadow cannot possibly be esteemed above the substance. To say that vice is involuntary means, therefore, that it never brings the vicious man that on which his heart, whether he knows it or not, like the heart of every one else, is really set. The typical Greek 'monster of wickedness,' the 'tyrant' who has raised himself above all the laws, may spend his whole life 'doing as he pleases' with the persons and property of all men, but just because he always does 'just as he pleases,' he never gets what he really wishes for. He wishes for felicity, and gets the extreme of infelicity, a hopelessly diseased soul. It would be better to be a criminal under sentence of death, because death may be just the sharp 'surgery' needed to cure the malady of the criminal's soul. Thus, if a man really knew as assured and certain truth, of which he can no more doubt than he can doubt of his own existence, that the so-called 'goods' of body and 'estate' are as nothing in comparison with the good of the soul, and knew what the good of the soul is, nothing would ever tempt him to do evil. Evil-doing always rests upon a false estimate of goods. A man does the evil deed because he falsely expects to gain good by it, to get wealth, or power, or enjoyment, and does not reckon with the fact that the guilt of soul contracted immeasurably outweighs these supposed gains. Socrates thus agrees on one point with Hedonism, that wrong-doing is due to miscalculation; but the miscalculation is not one of 'amounts of pleasure,' but of values of good.5

We see now what is meant by saying that all the virtues are one thing, and that thing knowledge. The current view of mankind, in Socrates' day as in ours, was that the moral virtues are a plurality; each is quite unlike the others, and you can have one in the highest degree without having any vestige of another—can, for example, be the brave des braves and yet as profligate as brave, or the most continent of men and yet the most grasping and unfair. Now Socrates admits that this is true, if by the virtues you mean what he calls in Plato 'vulgar virtue,' the sort of outward respect paid to an accepted code of conduct by men who have no personal conviction of the supreme importance of the soul, and the identity of true happiness with its 'health,' and merely conduct themselves decently because the habits of their society require it of them, and they expect to be made uncomfortable if they behave otherwise. But this 'vulgar' virtue is a mere illusory counterfeit of the true. True virtue is an affair of intense conviction, personal knowledge of the true moral 'values.' There is thus one single principle behind all its various manifestations in the varied situations of life. A man who has grasped this principle with the assured insight of knowledge cannot, then, apply it in some situations and not in others. Real knowledge of what is good for the soul will display itself in a right attitude to all the situations of life, and thus in the 'philosopher's' life the apparent dividing lines between one type of moral excellence and another will vanish. The whole of his conduct will be the exhibition of one excellence, steady and assured certainty of the true 'scale of good.' This explains the curious fact that more than one of the Platonic dialogues ends in a singular, apparently negative result. We are invited to consider what is the true character of some currently recognized virtue (temperance in the Charmides, courage in the Laches). Reflection seems to be leading us up to the conclusion that the quality under discussion is really knowledge of good, when we are brought to a pause by the observation that this appears to be the definition not of the particular virtue ostensibly under discussion, but of all virtue as a single whole. Formally this is treated as a proof that we are still as ignorant of the answer to the question propounded to us as we were at the outset. In fact, we are to understand, the attempt to define one virtue ends in something which is no more a definition of that virtue than of another, for the reason that in principle all virtue is one.

Of course, the knowledge with which Socrates thus identifies virtue is not anything and everything to which the name knowledge can be given; it is definitely knowledge of what is nowadays called 'moral value,' knowing what is my good. Now this leads to a real difficulty: how is such knowledge to be come by? On the one hand, if virtue is knowledge, the having or not having it is no matter of simple congenital endowment; men no more come into the world born good than they come into the world already born in possession of any other kind of knowledge; they have to win their knowledge. Yet the popularly current view that we automatically pick up 'goodness,' as we pick up the use of our mother-tongue, under the influence of good parents and a good social environment cannot be true. It is notorious that Pericles and the other outstanding men whom the Athenian public regards as eminently its 'best men' have been quite unable to impart their own excellences to their sons; the sons have commonly been quite inferior persons. On the other hand, the eminent 'sophists' profess to be able to 'teach goodness,' as they might teach some technical accomplishment, by a course of instruction. Now, if goodness is knowledge and nothing but knowledge, it certainly must be capable of being taught somehow; the man who has this knowledge must be able to direct another to the acquisition of it. And yet the sophistic profession of being able to teach it by a course of lectures must be hollow. The point which Socrates is represented by Plato as urging repeatedly against the sophists and their admirets is a simple one. What the sophist can teach is at best a professional speciality of some kind, how to do something which men in general cannot do. But virtue, or goodness, is no speciality with its restricted domain; its sphere is the whole domain of human conduct. And a specialism is, again, something which may be put to a good use or to an ill one, just as medical knowledge may be used to cure, but may equally be used to kill.6 At best the sophist can impart the specialist knowledge; what he cannot impart is the 'knowledge of good' which will ensure that the use made of it shall be good and not evil.

How, then, does a man learn the one kind of knowledge which it steads him most to have, knowledge of good? It is not clear that Socrates had ever reached a final solution of the problem. But we can perhaps discover the general character of the answer he would have given. According to Plato,7 he had been struck by the Orphic doctrine that there are means by which the soul can be restored to remembrance of her forgotten divine origin, and from this hint he had developed the conviction that the acquisition of knowledge generally is in reality a process of 'recollection' or 'recognition' (anamnesis) in which particular sensible facts prompt or suggest the assertion of a universal principle which transcends the facts themselves. By drawing a diagram and asking a series of pertinent questions, the mathematician leads a pupil to recognize a universal proposition. He need impart no information; if the right diagram is drawn, and the mind of the pupil set at work on it by the right questions, it will produce the right conclusion from within, by its own action, as though from a store of truth which it already possesses unconsciously. The truth so 'learned' is reached by a personal 'discovery,' to which the 'learner' has simply been stimulated by his 'teacher,' and yet is also 'recognized' as already implied in what the 'learner' had all along known. In the same way, the acute interrogations of a Socrates who compels us to 'give account' of our conduct of our lives, prompt the mind of the interrogated to 'recognition' of the implications of the moral standards by which we estimate our own conduct and our neighbour's. This is the starting-point from which Plato was to develop his own theory of 'philosophy' as created by the friction of minds employed in the joint pursuit after truth.

The Greek mind rightly made no distinction between the principles of private and those of public conduct, morals and 'politics'; and Socrates consistently applied his conviction of the identity of 'goodness' with a right estimate of 'values' to the morality of the State and its statesmen. The worth of a State, and of its public men, depended, in his eyes, wholly on the degree to which the national life was based on a true scale of good. It was out of the question that, with all his practical loyalty to the constitution, he should approve of the principle of democracy, the sovereignty of the multitude who have no knowledge of the good, and have never even dreamed that such knowledge is the necessary qualification for the direction of their affairs. The judgments on the Athenian democracy of the fifth century put into his mouth in Plato's Gorgias and Republic are much harder than anything Plato has to say of democratic government on his own account in such later dialogues as the Politicus and the Laws, and it seems to me probable that the severity of these verdicts comes from Socrates rather than from Plato.8 The very principle of democracy, if it can be called a principle, according to the Republic, is the refusal to require any superiority of intellect or character as a qualification for leadership; in the democratic community, as Nietzsche puts it, there is 'one flock and no shepherd,' and this is why its normal fate is to fall into the hands of an able and unscrupulous 'dictator' (or, as the Greeks called him, 'tyrant'). Equally severe is the condemnation pronounced by the Gorgias on all the famous leaders of the Athenian democracy, from Themistocles to Pericles, with the one exception, in part, of the 'just' Aristides. None of them all had the knowledge of good which is the one thing needful in life, as we see from two considerations. None of them—not even Aristides—could impart any goodness he possessed to his own son, and none, except perhaps Aristides, made the public 'soul' better by his tendance of it. Themistocles and Pericles and the others made Athens powerful and wealthy, but they did nothing for the moral of the people; they 'filled the city with ships and docks, not with righteousness'; gave it worldly prosperity, but no true moral ideals. Hence we are told in the Gorgias that though they may have been efficient 'body-servants' of the public, they have no claim to be, as true statesmen must be, its 'physicians.' It is clear that Socrates really habitually used the kind of arguments Plato ascribes to him about the incapacity of the Athenian public men to impart 'goodness' to their sons as a proof that their own apparent 'goodness' was not the genuine thing. In the Meno Anytus is introduced expressly to warn him that this depreciation of the national heroes is a dangerous sport—a plain indication of Plato's belief that it had much to do with provoking the attack which ended in his prosecution.

From the Socratic point of view, the proper organization of society would be one in which every man's social status and function, as statesman, soldier, or producer, is determined by the nature of the work his aptitudes, understanding, and character fit him to discharge. This is precisely the ideal which is embodied in outline in the account of the ideal city which fills the earlier books of Plato's Republic. So far, the scheme may truly be said to be directly of Socratic inspiration. How far any of its details are actually of Socratic origin is another question, though it is suggestive that this seems to be so with one of its most original features, the proposal to admit women on the same terms as men to public employment, military and civil, and the education which qualifies for it. That Socrates actually entertained an ideal of this kind seems to be shown by the fact that Aeschines also in his dialogue Aspasia dwelt on the political capacity of Aspasia herself and others, and the military ability believed to have been shown by the real or legendary Persian princess Rhodogyne. Xenophon also incidentally puts into the mouth of his Socrates the thesis that, with the necessary training, a woman is capable of the same things as a man.9

2. Theory of Knowledge and Scientific Method.

—Aristotle remarks in the Metaphysics that 'two things must injustice be ascribed to Socrates, inductive arguments and universal definition."10 This does not take us very far; Aristotle is clearly intending less to give us a complete characterization of Socrates than to specify certain constituents of his own philosophy as derived from him, and he seems to be basing his statement simply on his reading of Plato's dialogues, which illustrate the point abundantly. Xenophon's apologetic interest in the soundness of his old teacher's moral lessons leaves him little inclination to talk about anything else. Our chances of being able to discover something more about Socrates as a thinker on other than strictly ethical topics stand or fall with the historical truth of the autobiographical narrative put into his mouth in Plato's Phaedo.11 Now it seems to me, as I have already said, that we are bound to take this narrative as being substantially what Plato regarded as historical fact. The alternative is to suppose that an account of what Socrates said of himself on the last day of his life, in the presence of a number of intimate friends who were all living when that account was published, and certain to read it, is a fiction which all these readers would immediately detect. No one is really courageous enough to be thorough with such a theory. Everybody, for instance, accepts as fact the story of the introduction of Socrates to the book of Anaxagoras, and his disappointment with it, though we have no evidence for the fact beyond the statement of the Phaedo. But that statement in the Phaedo is merely the beginning of a coherent narrative, and it is therefore incumbent on us in consistency either to accept the rest of the narrative as substantially accurate, or to treat the initial statement with the same scepticism as all that follows it. I have little doubt for myself which is the more reasonable course. No sane man, of course, would deny that Plato, like every great artist, mixed his own mind with his object. It is quite another matter to assert that he consciously presents us with his own features in a pretended portrait of Socrates.12

According to the Phaedo, then, the immediate effect on Socrates of his discovery that Anaxagoras dogmatized about Nature in the same arbitrary fashion as his precursors was to lead him to strike out a new method in the search for truth. If we cannot discover the truth about things by direct inspection of the things themselves, we may attempt to reach it by examining the statements, or theories (logoi), which we make about them. The apparent indirectness of the procedure is Socrates' reason for humorously proceeding to depreciate it as the 'make-shift of an amateur.' Really, of course, he holds that it affords us our one and only chance of getting any genuine knowledge. The procedure he is describing is precisely that which, as we see from Xenophon,13 as well as from Plato, he called dialectic, a name which properly means the method of 'conversation.' The thought which explains the use of the name is that truth has to be reached by dint of dialogue, or debate, which may be carried on between two inquirers, or also within the heart of a single inquirer, as his 'soul' questions itself and answers its own questions. The truth, which is not to be discovered by any direct inspection of 'facts,' may be beaten out in the critical confrontation of rival interpretations of them. It comes, when it comes, as the conclusion to a debate.

It is this method of confrontation of rival 'arguments' or 'theories' which Aristophanes wittily and wickedly burlesques in the Clouds. Protagoras also had said, in a very different sense, that 'there are two arguments about everything,' two sides to every case, and that the art of effective advocacy which he taught aims at making the 'weaker case'—that which unskilfully presented would have got the worse with the audience—the 'stronger.' Aristophanes puts on this harmless dictum the sense that the object of advocacy is to make the morally worse case appear the better, and then transfers the procedure to Socrates, with the result that the rival 'arguments' are brought on the stage as Virtue and Vice, and Vice, of course, drives Virtue out of the field. This is pure burlesque, but it presupposes as its foundation the fact that, in the infancy of Plato, Socrates was already known as specially interested in the confrontation of 'arguments' of some kind.

The Phaedo gives us a fairly full account of the nature of the procedure. The method is that Socrates starts from some proposition which, on any grounds, commends itself to him as presumably true. This he calls his initial hypothesis, and he proceeds to ask himself 'what must follow if this is admitted,' that is, to deduce its consequences. The truth of the initial hypothesis being at present unquestioned, whatever follows from it is also set down as true, and whatever conflicts with it as false. Thus the assumption of the method is simply that truth is a coherent system, and that nothing which conflicts with a true principle can be true. We must note, of course, that the assumed principle which Socrates calls his hypothesis is not taken to be hypothetical in the sense of being a 'pure supposal.' Socrates takes it as the starting-point of an argument because he presumes it to be true, or because it is common ground to himself and the other party to the discussion. On the other hand, there is no question of asserting it as a self-evident and final truth. It may be called in question, and in that case requires to be defended by being deduced as a consequence from some more ultimate and less disputable hypothesis. The important rule of method is that the question what consequences follow from the hypothesis, and the question whether the hypothesis itself is true, must be kept distinct. So long as we are still concerned with the former question, that of the consequences, the hypothesis itself must be left unquestioned.

So far, the method ascribed to Socrates in the Phaedo is clearly in principle that which has proved itself the one path to truth in scientific theory down to our own time. The contrast drawn between the direct procedure of the lonian physicists, which had led nowhere, and the method of studying things in the 'statements' we make about them is precisely that also drawn by De Morgan between the erroneous method of Bacon, who assumes that facts are there to draw a theory from, and the sound method of Newton, who treats the facts as there to test theory by.14 The one notable difference is that Socrates makes no special reference to the verification of theory by the confrontation of theoretical consequences with observational fact. Verification, however, finds its proper place in the elaboration of the Socratic thought by Plato and his Academy, whose technical name for a scientific theory which clearly accounts for all the relevant observed facts was an hypothesis which 'saves appearances.' (The 'appearances' are the facts as observed; to 'save' them is to account for them all in a coherent way.) Of course, neither Socrates nor Plato could have contemplated the modern extension of verification by experiments devised expressly for the purpose.

So far there is some independent evidence that the statements of the Phaedo about the method of Socrates are historical. Xenophon was aware that his practice, when one of his theses was disputed, was to 'bring the whole discussion back to the hypothesis,' that is, the initial position which was common ground to himself and his opponent,15 though this, of course, may only mean that Xenophon had read the Phaedo and seen no reason to distrust its statements. It is more significant to my mind that Plato himself apparently makes Protagoras refer, without any further explanation, to the method of taking some proposition as an hypothesis which is not to be questioned so long as we are concerned with discovering its consequences, as something distinctively characteristic of Socrates, in a dialogue feigned to have been held before Plato's own birth.16 We can see, moreover, from what quarter Socrates is likely to have derived the suggestion of the method. Rigorous deduction of the consequences of an hypothesis was the peculiar method of the famous Zeno of Elea, though it was the hypotheses of his opponents which he treated in this way, and his object was to discredit them by showing that they led to impossible consequences, as he is made to explain himself to the youthful Socrates in Plato's Parmenides.17

As far as this many, if not most, careful students of the evidence would probably be willing to follow us. Most of them may decline to take the further step of accepting as fundamentally true to fact what the narrative of the Phaedo goes on to say about the nature of the particular hypothesis adopted by Socrates himself as the basis of his thinking. This, it is said, is nothing but the famous 'Theory of Ideas,' and it is commonly assumed without proof, or with no proof but a few ambiguous expressions in Aristotle, that this doctrine was discovered by Plato for the first time after the death of Socrates. For my own part, I feel with Burnet that it is inconceivable that any thinker should introduce an eminently original discovery of his own to the world by representing it as something which had long been familiar to a number of living contemporaries who were certain to read his work and detect any misrepresentation. I hold, therefore, that we must accept the statements of the Phaedo as substantially true to fact, and have to explain the evidence of Aristotle, if we accept it at all for more than his own private conjecture, in a way which will not conflict with Plato. We must remember, of course, that Plato has mixed his own personality with his object in the very act of depicting it, but we must take this to be done inevitably and without conscious distortion of truth.

The problem which had perplexed Socrates was that of the 'cause of coming-to-be and ceasing-to-be.' Why does a thing make its appearance in the world or disappear from it? Why does a thing come to exhibit a quality which it had not before, or to lose one which it had? The physicists had their answer to this question; they found the causes of these changes in physical agents, which they assigned variously and arbitrarily. Reflection on the implications of the thesis of Anaxagoras about Mind as the source of the order in the world suggested to Socrates that these physical agents, whatever they may be, are at best only concomitant causes, or indispensable conditions, of an event; the real cause is, in every case, that it is best that things should be as they are, and in a mind-ordered world everything will be disposed as it is best that it should be. In this way, Socrates introduced into philosophy that 'teleological' or 'finalist' conception of the order of the universe as realizing an end of absolute value which was to be fully worked out and transmitted to later times as the chief heritage of Greek philosophical thought by Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus.

The abandonment of the old naif method of trying to discover truth by a simple inspection of 'facts' meant, of course, that Socrates could not dream of learning by direct inspection what the particular details of the world-order are, and why it is best that they should be as they are. But his conviction that there is an intelligible order in everything, and that it is a wise order, gave him a characteristic point of view from which to approach the question why a thing comes to be or ceases to be, acquires or loses a character. He speaks of this attitude in the Phaedo as nothing novel to his auditors, but one of which they have repeatedly heard from him. If a thing becomes what it was not before, if, for example, it becomes beautiful, this is always for one and the same reason, that Beauty has 'become present to' the thing; if it ceases to be beautiful, Beauty has 'withdrawn' from it. Or, in an alternative phrase, a thing which is beautiful is so just because, and so long as, it 'partakes' of Beauty; a figure is triangular just so long as, and because it 'partakes of the triangle; and so forth. Beauty, or, as the Greek language expresses it, 'the Beautiful,' 'the triangle,' and the like, are what in this doctrine are called Forms or Patterns (eide, ideai),18 and a thing is what it is, has the characters it has, because it 'partakes' of the Forms of which it does 'partake.' And there are the following important points to be noted about these Forms. (1) The 'things which partake of a Form' are all perishable; they begin to be and cease to be, but the Form, Beauty, the Triangle, etc., neither begins to be, nor ceases to be; it is strictly what Dr. Whitehead calls an 'eternal object.' (2) The things which we perceive by our senses only 'partake of,' or 'resemble,' the Forms imperfectly. We never see a stick which is flawlessly straight, or a patch which is exactly and perfectly triangular, and we never perhaps meet with an act of perfect justice; we only see approximately straight sticks and approximately triangular patches, and come across acts of approximate justice. But 'the straight line' or 'the triangle' about which the geometer tells us is perfectly straight or triangular, and the justice of which the moralist talks as a duty is perfect justice. (3) The things which 'partake of the Form' may be indefinitely many; the Form itself is strictly one. Even in geometry, where we talk of many triangles which are all assumed to be perfectly triangular, what the geometer is interested in proving is not the properties of this triangle or that triangle, but those of 'the' triangle.19 And it is always the Form, never this or that thing which 'partakes of a Form, which is the object of which we are talking in science. I know as a scientific truth that any two sides of the triangle must be greater together than the third side; I do not know that two sides of this patch before me must be greater than the third, since I do not know that this visible patch really is triangular.

We should like, of course, if we could, to know something more of these Forms. Of what things are there Forms (and, consequently, of what things can we have scientific knowledge)? And, again, do the Forms constitute a system of any kind? We can see from the polemical allusions of Aristotle that at a later date Plato's Academy had answers, not always concordant answers, to these questions, and that Aristotle found all these answers unsatisfactory. But we are not entitled to read back into the Phaedo developments which belong to Plato's old age, and we may even doubt whether in the Republic Plato may not be unconsciously 'colouring' his picture of Socrates more than he knows as his argument advances. From the examples given in the Phaedo itself it would seem that what Socrates was chiefly thinking of is, on the one side, the objects of which the mathematician can give us perfect and absolute definitions in geometry and arithmetic, and on the other the ideal standards and norms of the moralist

(the number 3, the triangle, the Just, and the like). And this impression is borne out for us by a dialogue written by Plato at a late period in his career, the Parmenides, in which Socrates is expounding his theory to the great Eleatic philosophers Parmenides and Zeno, and defending it, not very satisfactorily, against their criticism. He is made there to say20 that he feels quite sure that there are Forms of such things as Like and Unlike, Unity, Multitude, Just, Good, but very doubtful whether there are Forms of Man, Fire, Water, and still more doubtful about Hair, Mud, Dirt. In fact, he is sure of his ground in Mathematics and Morals, but very unsure of it everywhere else. We may infer that the first impulse to the formation of the theory came from reflection on mathematical and moral truth. This is what we should expect if the doctrine originated with Socrates, and if Socrates were the man Plato depicts. The very terminology used seems to come in the first instance from Pythagorean mathematics. There is clear evidence that the word eidos was the old Pythagorean name for 'figure,' a sense of the word which persists in some stereotyped phrases in Euclid and other third-century geometers, though their common word for figure is a different one (schema).21 And Plato frequently represents Socrates as deeply impressed by the need for moral standards by which controversies about right and wrong may be determined, as disputes about area or volume are settled by an appeal to geometry, or disagreements about weight by resort to the balance.

We see that the doctrine is a first attempt to do justice to the a priori factor in knowledge, the universality and necessity of scientific truths most conspicuously evident in the propositions of pure mathematics and pure ethics, and that those disciplines are taken as the model of what all science should be. We understand thus why the Forms have been identified by later philosophers with 'universals,' 'concepts,' 'class-notions.' But to speak of them so involves a really unhistorical transposition of a simpler thought. It is to make Socrates talk like Aristotle, or Kant, and this cannot be done without risk of misunderstanding, though his doctrine is the ultimate source of theirs. If we would avoid all such misunderstandings, it is best to say simply that the Form is that—whatever it may be—which we mean to denote whenever we use a significant 'common name' as the subject of a strictly and absolutely true proposition, the object about which such a proposition makes a true assertion. Such objects, not the sensible things disclosed in bodily perception, are, according to Socrates, the most real things there are, and the only things which are fully real. The soul, as we saw, has one single fundamental activity, that of knowing realities as they really are, and it is only in knowing the Forms that this activity is successfully discharged. Where the mind is not face to face with a Form, we have only opinion or belief a belief which may, of course, in many cases be quite sufficient for the needs of everyday life, but we have not knowledge; the element of 'necessary connection' is missing.

Do the Forms, which are the proper objects of genuine knowledge, form an organized whole or system? They should do so, no doubt, since, according to the Phaedo, the whole doctrine of them as the explanation of 'coming-into-being and ceasing-to-be' is inspired by the still more ultimate conviction that in a mind-permeated world all things are ordered as it is best they should be, and the Good—itself a Form—is therefore the cause of the whole order. This is strictly in accord with a famous passage of the Republic,22 where Socrates speaks of the Good, or Form of good, as holding the same supreme and central position in the realm of Forms apprehended by the intellect which its 'offspring' the Sun holds in the visible world. As the sun in the visible world is the source at once of the life of the things we see and the light by which they are seen, so the good in the world disclosed to thought is the source at once of the reality of the Forms we apprehend and of the knowledge by which they are apprehended. And as the sun, though the source of light and growth, is not the same thing as either, so the good is neither 'being' nor 'knowledge,' but something which is the transcendent source of both. But Socrates is made to confess that as it is the supreme feat of corporeal vision to be able to look on the sun, so it is the supreme and most difficult achievement of the mind to know the Good. He himself, in this passage, confesses his own inability to speak of it in any language but that of parable and metaphor. Plato has been commonly thought in this passage to be talking of a personal speculation of his own of which the Master whose voice he is borrowing had never dreamed. In view of the intimate connection made in the 'autobiographical' pages of the Phaedo between the hypothesis of Forms and the conviction that the Good is the universal cause, I find it difficult to subscribe to this opinion. I should rather judge that the language and imagery of this splendid passage are those of Plato in his 'golden prime,' but the thought is one directly necessitated by the meditations born of the first falling-in with the book of Anaxagoras.

It is clear that the doctrine of Forms, in the shape in which, as I hold, we must be prepared to ascribe it to Socrates, creates difficulties as well as removes them. In particular, it leaves wholly unexplained the relation of the Form to sensible fact which it calls its 'presence,' or its being 'participated in.' Is what we call a sensible thing merely a temporary assemblage of Forms, or 'universals,' and if it is more, what else is it? No one has pointed out these difficulties more incisively than Plato himself in his dialogue Parmenides, and it seems at least plain that the final form of Plato's own teaching, which we have to reconstruct imperfectly from the puzzling hints of Aristotle, was an attempt to find an answer to the problem. Aristotle himself was so perplexed by the results that he comes to treat the whole doctrine of Forms itself as a mistaken attempt to separate the 'universal characters' of individual sensible things from the things themselves, and then to set up these 'abstractions' as a second set of super-sensible things which somehow produce the things we see and handle. It is, he says, as though a man who had to count a number of articles were to fancy that he must begin by doubling it. He believed himself to have got rid once for all of an unreal and insoluble problem by his own formula that the 'form' only exists in the individual sensible thing, and is just its 'essential character.' Yet the problem is still with us, in spite of Aristotle, as a very real crux in the latest attempts to furnish a philosophy of the sciences. We still find ourselves asking what is the 'status' of 'scientific objects.' Just what are the things of which the mathematician and the physicist discourse? Or again, what is a moral 'ideal'? And what is the relation of the 'scientific object' to the things we touch or see, and how, again, are 'value' and 'fact' related? Natural and moral philosophy are still far from having answered these questions with finality, and even further from having escaped the necessity of asking them. The unique greatness of Socrates lies in the fact that he was the first man in the world to raise them with the clear understanding of what he was doing.

Several of the companions of Socrates were active after his death as heads of philosophical schools, and one, Antisthenes, was a voluminous writer. It has been common to speak of these men and their followers as 'minor Socratics.' It is, to my mind, very doubtful how far this language, which reflects the artificial schematism of Alexandrian biography, is justified. The Megarian opponents of Aristotle in the fourth century, their contemporaries, Diogenes and the other eccentrics popularly nicknamed Cynics, the Hedonist moralists of Cyrene in the third, were affiliated to Socrates through Euclides, Antisthenes, and Aristippus respectively. But there is no evidence of the existence of any Cyrenaic school before the days of the successors of Alexander; the Megarics, who showed themselves pugnacious opponents of Aristotle, clearly held views not to be reconciled with the strict Monism ascribed by all our authorities to Euclides; though Diogenes and his imitators professed a great reverence for Antisthenes, it is not clear that they regarded themselves as in any way related to him as a 'founder.' And Euclides, Aristippus, Antisthenes, were all rather admiring friends than 'disciples' of Socrates. The doctrines of Euclides were a direct inheritance from the Eleatics; Aristippus is expressly recorded to have had no doctrines at all; the paradoxical views for which Antisthenes is chiefly remembered, his denial of the possibility of contradiction, and the like, come not from Socrates, but from the 'sophists.' For all purposes of importance, Socrates had just one 'successor'—Plato.


1 See, in particular, Burnet's essay, 'The Socratic Conception of the Soul' (Proceedings of the British Academy, viii. 235-260), and his article, 'Socrates,' in Hastings' Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, xi.

2 Fr. 131, Bergk.

3 As when the Cyclops in Euripides says he will for once 'do his psyche a good turn' by a cannibal debauch (Cycl., 340). So the Romans said genio indulgere in the same sense, and anima causa agere, 'to act on one's whim.'

4 Empirical psychology, founded by Alcmaeon of Crotona, is represented, in the age of Socrates, by those scientific Pythagoreans who taught that the soul is the 'attunement of the melody given out by the body, a doctrine, as is shown in the Phaedo, quite inconsistent with the religion of both Pythagoras and Socrates.

5 This is the real point of the argument in Plato's Protagoras, where Socrates appears at first sight to be talking Hedonism. He wants to prove to the 'many' that, even on their own theory that good and pleasure are the same thing, it is not a paradox to identify the courage of the virtuous man with knowledge, since they will admit that the coward who runs away from danger is making a false computation of the 'balance of pleasures and pains.'

6 It is notorious that the clever poisoner in our criminal annals is commonly a medical man.

7 See particularly Meno, 81 a-85 e, where the theory is elaborately illustrated by a 'lesson' in geometry given by Socrates to a slave-boy ignorant of the science, and Phaedo, 72 e ff., where there is a similar reference to the acquisition of geometrical knowledge. In both places the doctrine is brought into connection with the immortality of the soul, but it is made clear that, as a theory of what the discovery of a truth is, it is independent of this religious tenet. (It reappears, in fact, at the end of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, ii, without any religious associations, as Aristotle's own account of the way in which first principles are suggested by 'induction.') In the Phaedo (loc. cit.) the doctrine that 'learning is just recognition' is expressly said by Simmias, speaking to Socrates, to be 'the doctrine you are so constantly repeating.' Unless we are willing to regard the Phaedo as a gigantic and unpardonable mystification, this seems to me proof that the theory really belongs to Socrates. For a brief statement of Plato's own allied convictions see Ep., vii. 341 c, and the comments of Burnet on the passage (Greek Philosophy, Pt. 1, pp. 221-222).

8 When the language of the earlier dialogues is taken as expressing Plato's personal opinions, the more favourable judgments of the later dialogues are explained as due to the mellowing influence of time on a mind lacerated by the fate of Socrates. It may be so, but there is also always the psychological possibility that the harsher verdicts are those of Socrates himself. His disillusionment as the temper of the Athenian democracy grew narrower and harder in the course of the great war would be all the bitterer that he had grown up in the great 'fifty years' before the war, and presumably had hoped and expected very different things. In a very late dialogue, the Timaeus, Plato makes Socrates confess to being something of a doctrinaire in politics, owing to his lack of personal experience of public life (Tim., 19 d). We learn from Xenophon (Mem., 1. ii. 9) that sarcasms about the democratic practice of filling magistracies by sortition was one count in the case against Socrates to which he is replying.

9 See the fragments of the Aspasia in the editions of Krauss and Dittmar. Xenophon's testimony to Socrates' belief that 'a woman is no worse endowed by nature than a man, though not his equal in judgment or physical strength,' will be found at Symp., ii. 9. For evidence from Xenophon to the demand of knowledge as the one qualification for sovereignty, see Mem., 111. ix. 10, and compare the whole of III. vi. where Socrates dissuades Glaucon from a premature entrance on public life by exposing his ignorance of military and financial statistics. That Xenophon speaks only of such ignorance of facts, not of the graver ignorance of 'moral values,' strikes me as characteristic of the man.

10Met. M, 1078 b 27. Some good recent German students make a point of denying that Socrates was really interested in 'definition.' This is true in the sense that his concern was not with theoretical labels for their own sake, but with a practical rule of conduct. What justifies Aristotle's way of expressing himself is that he is thinking of the formal structure of such works as Charmides, Laches, Protagoras, Meno, Republic IV.

11Phaedo, 96 a-100 c. The whole passage should be studied carefully with the annotations to it in Burnet's edition of the dialogue (Oxford, 1911).

12 A great portrait-painter always puts his own personality into his portraits. If he were an inferior artist, the portrait would be different. But he does not give his sitters his own nose or eyebrows.

13 A chapter of some length in the Memorabilia (IV. vi.) is devoted to illustrations of the way in which Socrates made those who associated with him 'more dialectical.' He did this, according to Xenophon, by urging them to think precisely and to express their thought intelligibly.

14 A. De Morgan, A Budget of Paradoxes (ed. 2), i. 88.

15Mem., IV. vi. 13.

16Prot., 351 e. The name hypothesis is not used here, but Protagoras proposes to Socrates to discuss the thesis that the good is pleasure 'in your regular way,' by working out its consequences.

17Parm., 128 c-e.

18 But it is misleading to call them, as they have so long been called, Ideas. That suggests to us that they are some one's thoughts, 'ideas in some one's head,' precisely what the theory does not mean.

19 We see this in an interesting way from the language, e.g., of Analytical Geometry about 'the equation to the circle,' or of Arithmetic about 'the number six.'

20Parm., 129-130.

21 The same sense of 'patterns' accounts for our language about figures of speech, and figures of the syllogism.

22Rep., 506 d-509 b.

Norman Gulley (essay date 1968)

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SOURCE: "The Good," in The Philosophy of Socrates, Macmillan, 1968, pp. 165-204.

[In the following essay, Gulley explains that Socrates's teachings emphasize that "knowledge of the good is a necessary and sufficient condition of being good and of doing what is good," but that they do not explicitly state what "the good" is. Gulley examines the Socratic works of Plato, and Xenophon, as well as some references in Aristotle, in order to deduce a consistent understanding of "the good."]

A. Introduction

Socrates' method of analysis assumes that it is possible to determine with certainty what the good is. His moral paradoxes, with their intellectualist conception of moral knowledge, make the same assumption. But the analysis which yields the moral paradoxes does not yield a specification of the good. For the moral paradoxes themselves are in this respect non-informative. They tell us that knowledge of the good is a necessary and sufficient condition of being good and of doing what is good. They do not tell us what the good is.

There are two places in Xenophon's Memorabilia where Socrates talks about the meaning of good. In a conversation with Aristippus (III viii) he emphasises its instrumental sense of 'good for a particular purpose'. In this sense, he argues, it can be equated with 'fine' or 'beautiful' (kalon); 'things which men use are considered to be fine and good in relation to that for which they are serviceable'. Similarly, in a conversation with Euthydemus (IV vi 8), he defines 'good' in terms of 'beneficial' (ōphelimon). The emphasis again is on the sense of 'good for a particular purpose'. What is beneficial to one person, he says, may be harmful to another. But a thing cannot be called good which is not beneficial to someone in relation to a certain purpose. So 'what is beneficial is good for him to whom it is beneficial'.

This emphasis on the instrumental sense of 'good' is in keeping with those features of the Greeks' moral language … which give to all Greek moral thought its broadly utilitarian character. It illustrates how readily the Greeks used 'good' synonymously with 'useful' or 'beneficial'. And, remembering that in moral behaviour doing what is 'useful' or 'beneficial' means for a Greek doing what is conducive to happiness (eudaimonia), we can see that what Socrates says in Xenophon about the meaning of good is a basic part of what he is saying when he asserts that no one does wrong willingly. This becomes clear when we look at Xenophon's formulation of that paradox. At Memorabilia (III ix 4) Socrates says that everyone chooses from possible courses of action what he considers to be 'most profitable' (sumphorōtata) for him, and does this. And in Plato's Protagoras, in presenting the same thesis (358bd), he links together 'fine' (kalon), 'good' (agathon) and 'beneficial' (ōphelimon) (358b; cf. 333d), just as he does in Xenophon in commenting on the meaning of good.

Now Socrates is not propounding a moral doctrine about what the good is when he talks about the instrumental sense of good, any more than he is propounding such a doctrine when he asserts that no one does wrong willingly. For to propound such a doctrine would be to give a descriptive specification of 'the good', considered as the end of human action, and distinguishable in this substantival use from its instrumental use as 'beneficial', 'profitable', or 'useful' (Plato, Hippias Major 296e-297d, 303e). Socrates' remarks are about this instrumental use, and are not concerned to specify a moral ideal.

It follows that those scholars have been mistaken who have tried to construct a moral ideal out of these remarks or out of the paradox that no one does wrong willingly. For there is nothing here which implies that Socrates was a relativist or subjectivist in his moral theory, or that he equated 'the good' with the useful or the advantageous.1 Henry Jackson argued2 that Socrates' answer to the question 'what is the good?' was that 'it is the useful, the advantageous. Utility, the immediate utility of the individual, thus becomes the measure of conduct and the foundation of all moral rule and legal enactment. Accordingly, each precept of which Socrates delivers himself is recommended on the ground that obedience to it will promote the pleasure, the comfort, the advancement, the well-being of the individual; and Prodicus's apologue of the Choice of Heracles, with its commonplace offers of worldly reward, is accepted as an adequate statement of the motives of virtuous action.'

The reference to Prodicus's Choice of Heracles is a reference to what Socrates is represented as narrating from Prodicus, with apparent approval of its sentiments, in conversation with Aristippus in Xenophon's Memorabilia (II i). The piece is in fact a recommendation of a life conscientiously devoted to the attainment of what is 'fine and good', and a condemnation of a life of maximum ease and pleasure. Neither here nor anywhere else in Xenophon's portrait is there evidence for thinking that Socrates was a hedonist.… He does indeed assume, in several of the conversations in Xenophon, that the good life is the most pleasant life. But this … is an assumption readily made by the Greeks in view of the natural 'eudaimonism' of their moral outlook. Both Plato and Aristotle assume it. It does not make them hedonists.

As for the other marks which Jackson ascribed to Socrates' conception of 'the good', such marks as the 'utility', the 'advancement', the 'well-being' of the individual, these are marks of the utilitarianism of the Greeks' moral language, not peculiar marks of Socrates' conception of 'the good'. The references to 'immediate' utility and 'the commonplace offers of wordly reward' are just misguided exaggerations, prompted to some extent, perhaps, by Xenophon's own severely practical outlook. So let us not look in this direction for Socrates' answer to 'what is the good?'. And let us not criticise him, as Jackson did, from this standpoint, as having 'no conception of the graver difficulties of ethical theory' or as a person to whom morality has so become 'a second nature' that 'the scrutiny of its credentials from an external standpoint has ceased to be possible'.3

What answer, then, did Socrates give to 'what is the good?'. The good is for him, as for any Greek, 'happiness' (eudaimonia). And we saw, in discussing his paradox that all the virtues are one, that a basis for this paradox is the notion that 'the good' or 'happiness' is a single unifying end of human action. It follows that any specification of it must maintain the unity of all morally good behaviour by specifying a single kind of activity or a single state of character as constituting happiness. Such a specification would be a descriptive specification of 'the good', the same in kind as, e.g., Aristotle's specification of happiness or human goodness as 'activity of the soul in accordance with philosophic wisdom (sophia)'. So our concern in the present chapter is to consider what particular specification of this kind was given by Socrates in answering the question 'what is the good?'.

An immediate difficulty is that in this respect Aristotle has virtually nothing to tell us. Nor is there in Plato's early dialogues, or in Xenophon's Memorabilia, any full and systematic discussion of the question we are considering. We do find in these sources, however, some portrayal of Socrates' views in politics, in theology, and in what it is not too pretentious to call philosophy of mind. We must see therefore whether, within these various views, it is possible to discern a consistent conception of the good.

B. Political Views

Socrates was not a practising politician. But in both Xenophon and Plato he expresses political views. He makes constitutional criticisms. He states his position with regard to matters of political concern such as 'conscientious objection', and a citizen's obligation to adhere to the laws. Finally, he indicates what he considers to be the relevance and value to the well-being of the state of his own activity as an educator of his fellow-citizens. These views are some guide to his political principles. And these principles, in so far as they reflect his moral ideals, are some guide to his conception of the good.

According to Xenophon (Mem. I ii 9) those who accused Socrates of corrupting the young men of Athens based their charge partly on the argument that he caused those who conversed with him to despise the established laws. Socrates is said to have maintained that it was foolish to elect the magistrates of a state by beans (i.e. by ballot), since no one would be willing to employ a pilot elected in that way, or an architect or a flute-player, or a person in any other such profession, where in fact errors caused far less harm than errors in the administration of a state. There are good grounds for thinking that this is a genuinely Socratic argument. Aristotle mentions it (Rhetoric 1393b) … as an illustration of a typically Socratic argument.

The implication of the argument is, of course, that expert knowledge is a necessary qualification for the statesman. One of Socrates' favourite analogies, the analogy between moral behaviour and the practice of professional skills, is here extended to political practice. The appeal to expert knowledge is made explicit in another part of the Memorabilia (III ix 10-11) where Socrates, arguing again from the practice of professional skills, asserts that true kings and commanders are 'not those who hold sceptres, not those chosen by the common crowd or elected by lot, not those who rely on violence or deceit, but those who know how to rule.'

Similarly (Mem. IV ii 6-7), he advocates the need for expert instruction in the art of government, an art which he subsequently characterises as the greatest art, 'the kingly art' (IV ii 11). And it is natural to associate with what Socrates says here his remarks on 'the kingly art' in Plato's Euthydemus. He describes this art (at 291b-292e) as a master-art which uses the results of the practice of all other arts or professional skills in the state in order to promote happiness. In developing this point Plato is possibly going beyond what Socrates himself had argued. But Xenophon's remarks are some confirmation that the notion is basically Socratic. There is no explicit specification here of what 'the good' is which the expert statesman is assumed to know and to be able to realise in the state. The Euthydemus (292ae) admits this. But some definite standard of values for political practice is implicit in what Socrates says. In looking at the rest of his political views we must try to discover what these values are.

At the outset we should beware of construing Socrates' political views in terms of Plato's ideals in the Republic. It is easy enough to look at the thought of the Republic as a direct and consistent development of the political ideas which we find ascribed to Socrates by Xenophon. But closer examination will show that Socrates' notions of political reform and of the relations between the state and the individual are far different from Plato's. Professor Popper has remarked that 'the Platonic "Socrates" of the Republic is the embodiment of an unmitigated authoritarianism'.4 He rightly dissociates Socrates from the Platonic Socrates in this respect. Socrates' apparent advocacy of government by experts is not intended to be the advocacy of an alternative form of government to democracy. Nor is it the advocacy of 'an unmitigated authoritarianism'.

Let us look first at Socrates' notion of political reform. The striking thing here is that, critical though Socrates is of methods of electing magistrates in a democracy, he emphatically asserts his loyalty to the laws of the state. 'He obeyed the magistrates', says Xenophon (Mem. IV iv 1), 'in all that the laws enjoined.' Xenophon represents him further as defining justice in terms of obedience to the laws (IV iv 18). As an example of Socrates' practice in this respect he mentions his behaviour in the public assembly when he stood alone in opposing a proposal which was contrary to recognised law. The occasion was the trial of the generals after the battle of Arginusae in 406 B.C. The generals were tried and sentenced to death in a body, though the recognised law was that they should have been tried separately (I i 18; IV iv 2; see also Plato Apol. 32b-c). This was under a democratic government.

Socrates' passionate respect for the law is further shown in his opposition to the government of the Thirty Tyrants when they tried to implicate him in their crimes. Xenophon says that 'when the Thirty ordered him to do anything contrary to the laws, he refused to obey them. For both when they forbade him to converse with the young, and when they ordered him, and some others of the citizens, to lead a certain person away to death, he stood alone in refusing to obey them, because the order was given contrary to the laws' (IV iv 3; Plato Apol. 32c-d).

In both these cases Socrates showed considerable personal courage and a high devotion to principle. But it was in his refusal to escape from prison when awaiting execution that he declared most strikingly his conviction that the laws must be obeyed.

Plato's Crito is devoted to explaining this refusal to escape. Socrates there defends his loyalty to the laws of the state by arguing that the foundation of law is an agreement or contract between the state and the individual, and that willingness on the part of an individual to live in a society governed by laws implies acceptance of that contract and hence willingness to obey the laws. To disobey the laws is to dishonour one's agreement. The right thing to do (to dikaion) is to obey them.

It seems to me that the complete consistency of everything that Xenophon and Plato tell us about Socrates' loyalty to the laws makes it very difficult to believe that they are not giving us a true picture. It is possible to argue that, in their desire to show that Socrates was unjustifiably condemned by a democratic government, both Xenophon and Plato would naturally be inclined to argue that he was always loyally obedient to the laws of the state, whether this was strictly true or not. But to argue in this way is to misconstrue Socrates' loyalty to the laws in one important respect.

For Socrates' loyalty is a loyalty not only to the laws of a democratic state, but to those of non-democratic states as well. Socrates, unlike Plato, does not appear to have been very interested in constitutional problems. He is not concerned to champion the case for, say, monarchy as against democracy, or vice-versa. And his opposition to any illegality is equally vehement whether it is a democracy or a tyranny which acts illegally. The examples of his opposition given by Plato and Xenophon make this clear. And since they make clear at the same time that Socrates' championing of the principle of loyalty to the laws is not necessarily a championing of democracy, it is unlikely that Plato and Xenophon are falsely insisting on Socrates' loyalty to the laws because they wish to make him out to be a loyal democrat.

It would be wrong, however, to infer from all this that Socrates approved of all forms of government and that he was concerned only to advocate loyalty to the laws under any government. In Xenophon he makes quite clear his disapproval of tyranny. And it follows from his definition of tyranny (Mem. IV vi 12) that his principle of loyalty to the laws has no application in the case of tyranny. Xenophon there says that Socrates considered tyranny a government which ruled men against their will and which was not controlled by law but only by the whim of the ruler. He considered that all other forms of government—including monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy—followed the rule of law and enjoyed the consent of those living under them.

The association made here between consent and the rule of law is in conformity with Socrates' views in the Crito about the implicit contract between state and individual in a society governed by laws that the individual should be obedient to those laws. Socrates, it is clear, was more broadly tolerant of different forms of government than a modern liberal democrat. He saw no incompatibility between monarchy and consent, and did not concern himself with the question of whether an aristocracy could be fully representative of the will of the majority of the citizens. The main distinction which he seems to make is between government by law and consent and government without law and consent. Under the former type of government he thinks that it is right to be loyal to the laws.

Socrates' distinction corresponds fairly closely to the distinction between 'democracy' and 'tyranny' made by Popper in discussing Plato's theory of sovereignty.5 'Democracy' is a type of government 'of which we can get rid without bloodshed', i.e., where 'the social institutions provide means by which the rulers may be dismissed by the ruled'. 'Tyranny' is a government 'which the ruled cannot get rid of except by way of successful revolution—that is to say, in most cases, not at all.'

Socrates was, I think rather more naive than Popper in his attitude to tyranny. For he seems to have thought that the arbitrary rule of a tyrant is invariably suicidal. In Xenophon (Mem. III ix 12) he expresses the view that the tyrant always suffers for his indifference to the advice of others, and brings immediate destruction on himself if he puts to death wise counsellors whose policy differs from his own. But what Popper says about 'democracy' expresses admirably Socrates' attitude to non-tyrannical forms of government. He says that, in making possible the reform of institutions without using violence, 'democracy' thereby makes possible 'the use of reason in the designing of new institutions and the adjusting of old ones'.6

This is much more explicit, of course, than anything which we can ascribe to Socrates himself. But it is undoubtedly implicit in Socrates' attitude to government. And Popper is undoubtedly right in associating with Socrates the 'personalism' of what he calls 'democracy' in its attitudes to the education of its citizens and to political reform. The personalist attitude treats the question of 'the intellectual and moral standard of its citizens' as 'to a large degree a personal problem'. Moreover, it assumes that the problem of improving 'democratic' institutions 'is always a problem for persons rather than for institutions'.7

It is in Plato's Apology that Socrates expresses with the most passionate conviction his sense of the importance of his mission to serve the community, not by any direct participation in politics, but by a personal approach to individual citizens. It is God's bidding, he says (30-1), that he should serve the state by questioning and examining his fellow-citizens, stirring them from their apathy and intellectual self-satisfaction. In everything he says on this score he emphasises repeatedly the individual nature of his approach (30e, 31b, 36c). I turned aside, he says, from political offices, thinking that I would best benefit the state if I went around privately to each individual and did him what I consider to be the greatest of all services—trying to persuade him not to care for what he had but for the excellence of his moral and intellectual self, nor to care for what the state had, but for 'the state itself (36b-c).8 There are similar sentiments in Xenophon, and a similar emphasis on the value to the state of educating the individual in 'knowing himself through self-criticism.9

We see from this the kind of political significance which Socrates ascribes to his educational activities. One reason he gives for preferring to serve the state in this way rather than through public participation in politics is the severely prudential reason that it is personally safer. 'You may be sure', he says at his trial, 'that if I had attempted to enter public life, I would have perished long ago, without any good to you or to myself. No man will ever be safe who genuinely stands up against you or against any other democracy, and tries to prevent a host of injustices and illegalities being committed in the state. The man who is to fight for justice must work in private rather than in public, if he is to keep his life even for a short time' (Plato Apol. 31e-32a).

This is not, of course, a mere concern for his own skin. It is a concern for the well-being of the state. Indeed, Socrates' deep conviction of the importance for this purpose of his educational mission makes him ready to lose his life rather than give up his activity. Nor should we try to interpret his loyalty to the laws as an expedient for his own safety. This loyalty again belongs to his conviction that it is not by flouting the laws of the state and not by any resort to revolution that the good of the state is advanced. His respect for government by law and consent is a genuine respect. Within such a government, improvement must come through personal education of the citizens.

As a political programme this Socratic ideal no doubt appears unduly sanguine, as well as unduly acquiescent in its attitude of loyalty to the laws. Its expectations are, however, more readily understandable when placed within the context of the small, close-knit community of a city-state. And Socrates is confident that there will be many more besides himself ready and able to further his ideal.10 Moreover, his loyalty to the laws does not assume that the laws are necessarily the best laws for ensuring the happiness of the citizens. In defending his loyalty to the laws in the Crito he makes clear that the laws are open to 'persuasion' as to what is right and just (51b-e).

Besides claiming the right to 'persuade' the laws Socrates also claims the right of 'conscientious objection' to what the laws prescribe. He states at his trial that, if he were to be acquitted on condition that he put a stop to his philosophical activities, then he would refuse to give such an assurance. As long as life leaves him the ability to do so, he says, he will never give up his philosophical activities. He will continue to try to persuade each of the citizens to care for the excellence of his moral and intellectual self (Plato, Apol. 29c-e). He is ready, however, to accept whatever legal penalty is imposed as a punishment for his activities. His claim for the right of defiance is not also a claim for the right to escape the punishment of the law.

This is yet a further indication of Socrates' deep personal conviction of the rightness and the political value of his mission in life as an educator. And it helps us to appreciate more clearly his ideal that the wisest should rule. He does not think this ideal incompatible in any way with his ideal of government by law and consent, or with his claims for the rights of the individual's conscience and for the individual's right to happiness. He obviously thinks of the rule of the wisest as a type of government which ensures perfect harmony between the citizen's respect for the laws and his individual right to perfect his own good. There is, however, little of the political theorist about Socrates. As Popper has said, 'with his emphasis upon the human side of the political problem, he could not take much interest in institutional reform'. It was 'the immediate, the personal aspect' in which he was interested.11 The ideal that the wisest should rule is, for Socrates, not so much one particular institutional form of government. Rather, it is the end result of an educational mission which aims to bring wisdom not only to those who will rule but to those also who will elect the rulers and themselves be ruled.

From what we have now seen of Socrates' political views it is clear how radically Socrates differs from Plato in his approach to politics. Plato … rejects the individualism of Socrates' ethics. He rejects, in the end, Socrates' belief in the supreme efficacy of individual reason in ensuring rightness of moral behaviour. And he rejects Socrates' belief that education is a personal affair, of individual by individual, and that education of this kind is the only proper education to promote the well-being of society. He turns instead to schemes of state control of education. And coupling with his view that only the wise should rule the view that only the few are wise, he gives to the wise supreme authority to determine the rights of the rest. In this respect the charge that Plato 'betrayed' Socrates is entirely justified.12

This contrast between Socrates and Plato in their political attitudes serves to emphasise what is distinctive in Socrates' attitude. What is distinctive about it is, in the first place, its individualism. This is in keeping with the spirit of Socrates' method and of his ethics. Socrates assumes the self-sufficiency of his method as a means of attaining moral knowledge. He further assumes the sufficiency of that knowledge for attaining virtue. And, finally, he assumes 'the moral self-sufficiency of the virtuous man'.13 No evil, he says, can come to a good man, whether in life or death (Plato Apol. 41d).14

These are all marks of the individualism of Socratic ethics. It is this individualism which leads him to oppose15 the traditional political virtue of doing good to friends and harm to enemies. For it follows from the good man's moral self-sufficiency that the only harm that can come to him is of his own making, i.e. by committing wrong himself. And if to do harm to others is to do wrong, then to do harm to those who have done wrong to oneself is to do wrong. Hence it is to impair one's own moral good. Moreover, one's moral self-sufficiency is proof against wrong done to one by others. So that it is 'better' to be wronged by others than to do wrong to others.

A corollary of this individualism is the liberalism of Socrates' attitude to politics. He considers the moral worth of the individual to be of paramount value. Hence he considers that the individual must be free to realise his own good. That is why he insists at his trial on the right of the individual to defy the state if it prescribes what he considers to be incompatible with realising that good. For it is clear from the assumptions of his own educational mission that the right he claims for himself is a right which he claims for any individual. Perhaps in some respects Socrates' attitude of acquiescence towards the laws of the state may appear to be unduly tolerant. Certainly his conviction of the individual's moral self-sufficiency predisposes him to think that the individual is able to realise his moral ends under most forms and conditions of government. But he always insists on the individual's right to be free to realise his own good. And he is confident that the vigorous exercise of this right will help to create the best political conditions for realising that good.

These political views of Socrates are clearly relevant to our inquiry into Socrates' conception of the good life. For they are a reflection of what Socrates holds to be valuable in human life. In the first place Socrates values the individual as an end in himself, and hence claims the right of the individual to pursue his own good. Hence he claims further for the individual the political freedom to do this. In the second place, he believes in the efficacy of reason as a means available to the individual of determining his good; he believes, moreover, in the possibility of persuading all citizens of any particular state to realise the value of applying their reason systematically, through self-criticism, to the realisation of that end.

This yields a conception of the good life as a life of free and independent criticism and inquiry, considered as the 'best' activity for the individual's self-development. Its general tendency is, of course, to emphasise the intrinsic value of the activity of impartially searching for the truth rather than its means-to-an-end value in establishing what the good is as an ultimate value. In this respect it might seem that there is some incompatibility between, on the one hand, the liberalism and individualism of Socrates' view that each person should be free to determine and to follow his own good, and, on the other hand, his conviction that there is only one proper method to determine what the good is, and that this method will yield certainty as to what it is.

The former view, emphasising the value of free and independent criticism and inquiry, seems more in keeping with the liberal ideal of morality as an individual and, indeed, private sphere of behaviour, immune from the interference of law and state; the concern here is not to evaluate the particular moral principles which the individual has determined to be the right ones for him; it is to champion the value of the individual's right to be free and independent in determining them. The latter view, in so far as it assumes that reason can establish certain principles of moral behaviour as indubitably true, seems to be more in keeping with the view that there is a rationally sanctioned code of morality which should be accepted by everybody and which law and state should uphold.16 This is the view systematically developed by Plato. It excludes 'private morality'.

It is very unlikely that Socrates was aware of this apparent incompatibility between his individualistic views and the authoritarianism implicit in his conviction that certainty was possible in ethics and that those who had attained it should be rulers. Certainly there is much of the philosophical liberal about Socrates. This is reflected in almost all of his political views. And it is reflected also in his conception of the good in so far as this puts a high value on the activity of free and independent criticism and inquiry. But does he consider it a sufficient specification of the good to define it in terms of this activity? Or does he rather value this activity as a means to the end of establishing what the good is? Let us now look at his views in fields outside politics, to see what indications are given there about his conception of the good which might help to resolve this problem.

C. Religious Views

In a familiar passage in Plato's Phaedo Socrates tells how dissatisfied he was as a young man with the theories of the natural scientists of his time. They were wrong, he thought, in explaining everything in terms of mechanical causation; they should have adopted a teleological kind of explanation.

Here is his account of his reaction to the theory of Anaxagoras (Phaedo 97b ff.):17

One day I heard someone reading an extract from what he said was a book by Anaxagoras, to the effect that it is Mind that arranges all things in order and causes all things; now there was a cause that delighted me, for I felt that in a way it was good that Mind should be the cause of everything; and I decided that if this were true Mind must do all its ordering and arranging in the fashion that is best for each individual thing. Hence if one wanted to discover the cause for anything coming into being or perishing or existing, the question to ask was how it was best for that thing to exist or to act or be acted upon. On this principle then the only thing that a man had to think about, whether in regard to himself or anything else, was what is best, what is the highest good; though of course he would also have to know what is bad, since knowledge of good involves knowledge of bad.

With these reflexions I was delighted to think I had found in Anaxagoras an instructor about the cause of things after my own heart… I imagined that in assigning the cause of particular things and of things in general he would proceed to explain what was the individual best and the general good; and I wouldn't have sold my hopes for a fortune.

And then … I found the man making no use of Mind, not crediting it with any causality for setting things in order, but finding causes in things like air and aether and water and a host of other absurdities. It seemed to me that his position was like that of a man who said that all the actions of Socrates are due to his mind, and then attempted to give the cause of my several actions by saying that the reason why I am sitting here is that my body is composed of bones and sinews … so that when the bones move about in their sockets, the sinews, by lessening or increasing the tension, make it possible for me at this moment to bend my limbs, and that is the cause of my sitting here in this bent position.

No: to call things like that causes is quite absurd; it would be true to say that if I did not possess things like that—bones and sinews and so on—I shouldn't be able to do what I had resolved upon; but to say that I do what I do because of them—and that too when I am acting with my mind—and not because of my choice of what is best, would be to use extremely careless language. Fancy not being able to distinguish between the cause of a thing and that without which the cause would not be a cause!

This is a clear and straightforward advocacy of the superiority of teleological explanations to mechanical ones. It emphasises the need to take account of the end or purpose to be realised in all natural processes, and characterises this end as 'the highest good'. It also emphasises the directive force of Mind (nous) in ordering these processes and realising 'the highest good'. Thus the principle that man has a realisable good is seen as part of the comprehensive principle that everything in the world is directed in its activity to the realising of a final good end.

The first thing to consider about this account in the Phaedo is, of course, whether it is truly Socratic. One ground for suspicion that it is not is that, after its rejection of the notion of mechanical causation, it goes on to explain its new conception of causation in terms of the metaphysical theory of Forms (100a ff.), a theory which we have Aristotle's authority for attributing to Plato, and not to Socrates. On the other hand, it is fairly certain that Socrates was acquainted with the theories of Anaxagoras. For there is a well attested tradition that Archelaus, a pupil of Anaxagoras, was the teacher of Socrates.18 So we may reasonably ask whether it is likely that Socrates' reaction to the theories of Anaxagoras was such as the Phaedo describes. The fact that the later part of the Phaedo's discussion of causation is non-Socratic does not make it unreasonable to ask this. For that fact does not entail that the earlier part is non-Socratic.

Aristotle does not help us here. He says (Met. 987b l-6) that, at the time when Socrates influenced Plato, Socrates' interests were exclusively ethical and not directed at all to the world of nature as a whole. This is quite compatible, of course, with what Aristophanes' Clouds, Xenophon's Memorabilia (IV vii 4-7) and Plato's Phaedo all suggest—that Socrates was well acquainted with the theories of the fifth-century physical scientists and had reflected on the value of such studies. But Aristotle does not, unfortunately, make any comment about Socrates' later lack of interest in this field.

Xenophon, however, has a good deal to say. According to Xenophon, Socrates criticised the scientists on several counts—for the futility of their assumption that it was possible to achieve definite knowledge, for the lack of practical value in their studies, and for their presumption, amounting virtually to impiety, in seeking to explain the order of the universe (Mem. I i 11-15; IV vii 4-6). Admittedly, Xenophon has an axe to grind. He wishes to dissociate Socrates from any interests smacking of impiety, and hence from Aristophanes' caricature of him in the Clouds as an impious speculator in physical science. He also wishes to emphasise the practical benefits of Socrates' teaching. However, what he attributes to Socrates here is quite in keeping with what Plato's Apology represents him as arguing at his trial—that Aristophanes' portrayal of him is false and that it is wrong to associate him with the kind of theory he is there associated with (Apol. 18b-19d; 23d-e). Taken together, these passages from Xenophon and Plato give a consistent picture of Socrates' attitude to the theories of the fifth-century scientists.

Moreover, there are passages in Xenophon in which Socrates criticises these theories, just as he criticises them in Plato's Phaedo, on the ground of their materialism and their mechanistic explanations. These passages also attribute to Socrates a positive preference for teleological explanations of all the phenomena hitherto explained in terms of mechanical causation. Now it is easy enough to say that all that Xenophon is doing here is borrowing from the Phaedo. But the fact is that Xenophon goes well beyond the Phaedo in describing Socrates' teleological views. Some of these views have no parallel at all in the Phaedo. They are interesting and important.

In the first place, Xenophon (Mem. I iv 4 ff.) attributes to Socrates a teleological proof of the existence of a divine architect (demiourgos) of the order of the world. Socrates' argument from design appeals especially to the intricate and consistent adaptation of means to ends in the human body and personality. The major premiss of his argument here is that whatever is adapted to serve a useful purpose is the product of intelligence, not of chance (4). If then, he argues, we look at the human body, we see that the delicate structure of the different senses is adapted to man's needs and wellbeing. Similarly man's upright posture, his ability to speak, his intelligence are all adapted to benefit him, since they enable him to maintain himself in all sorts of conditions and to increase his happiness (5-17). Thus man is a most striking example of intelligent design. But he is only one example. Throughout the natural world an order is maintained which is evidence of a directing intelligence (8).

Thus the structure of the whole world is the product of intelligence and not of chance. A directing intelligence (nous, phronesis) is manifested everywhere (17). And all this points to the existence of a divine architect (di miourgos, 7), one who orders and holds together the whole cosmos (IV iii 13), exercising in the world a form of intelligent control which is conceived as analogous to the control of the human mind over the body (I iv 17).

Within this general teleological argument for the existence of a divine architect, Socrates introduces further the thesis that the pattern of adaptation of means to ends throughout the world is of a kind which shows that it is for the sake of man that the world is designed as it is. He develops this thesis at Mem. IV iii 3 ff. As evidence of man's privileged position in the order of the world he mentions his enjoyment of the 'gifts' of air, food, fire, of beneficial regulation of the seasons, of the use of other animals, of finely adjusted senses and intelligence, of speech, and of foreknowledge through divination of what is to his advantage. And on the basis of this evidence for man's privileged position within the cosmic pattern of means and ends, it is argued that God has a providential care for mankind and has designed the world to serve man's well-being.

If we compare the passage quoted from the Phaedo with these two chapters from the Memorabilia, we see that the arguments of the Memorabilia go beyond the arguments in the Phaedo in two main respects. The Phaedo argues that the order of the physical world as a whole and the purposive behaviour of human beings in particular are more plausibly explained in terms, not of a mechanical theory of causation, but of a teleological theory which recognises the directive force of mind (nous) in realising a good end. From this teleological viewpoint Socrates in the Memorabilia develops, first, a detailed argument for theism (the now familiar argument from design), and, second, a detailed argument to show that God in his providential care for man, has designed the world to serve man's well-being.

These arguments in the Memorabilia have a form which is closely parallel to the form of Stoic arguments to support the notion of divine providence. Indeed, in form and detail they immediately recall the arguments used by Balbus in his exposition of Stoic theology in the second book of Cicero's De Natura Deorum, especially those in the latter half of the book (133 ff.). The same examples are used in each case, the same conclusions are drawn. The parallel is close enough to make it likely that the Stoics made use of the arguments of the Memorabilia when formulating their own theological arguments. Sextus Empiricus, in his discussion of Stoic theology (Adv. Math. IX 92 ff.), certainly assumes this (see especially IX 101). And he gives a good deal of attention to the question of the proper interpretation of one highly important part of the argument in the Memorabilia (I iv 8).

In view of this, and in view also of the absence in earlier extant literature of any clear and explicit formulation of the Memorabilia's theistic arguments, the further likelihood is suggested that Socrates' arguments in Xenophon are in the main original arguments, and that Socrates is therefore a thinker of some importance in the development of a philosophy of theism. For there is no doubt that the two chapters of the Memorabilia we are considering present a theory which appears in many ways to be an 'advanced' theory for its time. The vocabulary of its account is not the least of the marks of its advanced nature. In this respect too the affinities are with later Stoic thought rather than with earlier or contemporary thought.19 Nor, for most of the arguments of the Memorabilia, is it possible to find in the pre-Stoic period, whether in the Platonic theology of the Timaeus and the Laws, or in Aristotle, arguments for theism which are at all closely parallel in general form and in detail to those of the Memorabilia.

It has been argued, indeed, that these arguments are so advanced for their time that their place in the Memorabilia can plausibly be explained only by the assumption that they are late interpolations. For example, Lincke argued that the Stoic Zeno put them where they are.20 But as alternatives to this speculative hypothesis, let us consider the probabilities of the views either that the arguments can be traced, in their essentials at least, to pre-Socratic thought or that they can be attributed, whether wholly or in part, to Socrates.

As we have already seen, it is acknowledged in Plato's Phaedo that Anaxagoras' introduction into his cosmogony of the element of Mind (nous) as that which 'arranges all things in order and causes all things'21 suggests at once a teleological mode of explanation. But in both Plato and Aristotle the criticism is made that Anaxagoras, after introducing Mind to start the cosmic revolution, falls back on mechanical explanations in the rest of his cosmogony and makes no further use of Mind as that which 'arranges all things in order'.22 Clearly the criticism was prompted by the lack of any use of the notion of end (telos) or purpose in Anaxagoras' detailed explanations.

But in the work of Diogenes of Apollonia a genuinely teleological outlook appears for the first time. Diogenes, described by Theophrastus as 'almost the youngest' of the cosmologists of the fifth century B.C., was no doubt influenced in his views by Anaxagoras' notion of Mind. Unlike Anaxagoras, however, Diogenes emphasises the conscious purpose and design to be found in nature. He assumes that this purpose is directed to the realisation of what is 'best'; this is the kind of end which Socrates, in the Phaedo, says that he looked for in vain in Anaxagoras' theory of causation. Finally, Diogenes thinks that the whole material world, in as much as it is infused by such purposive intelligence, is to be considered divine.

Let us see how he expresses all this. Without intelligence, he says, it would not be possible for the basic substance of the world to be distributed in such a way that it has a measure of everything—of winter and summer and night and day and rains and winds and periods of fine weather; other things too, if one cares to study them, will be found to be disposed in the best possible way.23 Hence he describes the basic substance of the world as 'that which has intelligence'. He identifies it with air. All men, he says, are steered by this, and it has power over everything; for this itself seems to me to be God and to reach everywhere and to dispose all things and to be in everything.24

We can see more clearly what Diogenes means when he says that 'all men are steered by this' if we look at his account of human sensation and thought. He explains sensation in terms of interaction between external and 'internal' air. And what is especially interesting in his account is his statement that in perception it is 'the air within' which perceives, 'being a small portion of the God'; that this is so is indicated, he argues, 'by the fact that often, when we have our mind (nous) on other things we neither see nor hear'25

What he means by this is that the divine nous which is operative in the whole cosmos is operative also in the act of human perception. For this act is not explicable simply in terms of interaction between external stimuli and sense-organs; for when the nous is directed elsewhere perception does not occur, even though physical interaction between external stimuli and sense-organs occurs. Hence 'the small portion of the God' which perceives is intelligence (nous). Cicero drew this conclusion from the passage when he said that it could readily be understood from it that it is the mind (animus) which sees and hears, not those parts which are as it were windows of the mind.26 It affords one example of the ways in which man is 'steered' by 'that which has intelligence'.

There are obvious affinities between Diogenes' arguments and Socrates' arguments in the Memorabilia. In both cases there is agreement that all things are disposed 'for the best' (kallista: Diogenes in DK.64 B 3, Socrates in Mem. I iv 13), that this is a divine disposition, and that it is exemplified in the regulation of the seasons, of night and day, and of the weather, and in the human senses and intellect (Diogenes in DK.64 A 19, B 3-5, Socrates in Mem. I iv 8, 13, 17; IV iii 4-9, 11).

There is some agreement also in the use of the analogy between the intelligent behaviour of the human person and the orderly processes of the cosmos. Diogenes thinks of human intelligence (nous) as 'a small portion of the God'. And in identifying 'that which has intelligence' with air as a cosmic principle, he was certainly influenced by the connexion between air and breathing in men and animals, the further connexion between breathing and life, and, finally, the connexion between life, sensation and thought (DK.64 B 4, B 5). This kind of connexion between air and intelligence in the human personality no doubt played its part in prompting him to adopt the theory that air, possessing 'intelligence' to order all things 'for the best', is the basic substance of the cosmos.

The analogy between human and cosmic intelligence is much more explicit in Socrates' arguments. He says (Mem. I iv 17) that, just as the human mind (nous) directs the body, so the intelligence that pervades everything directs all things. He argues also that the physical constituents of a man are the same, though infinitely smaller in amount, as those of the cosmos, and that it is therefore arrogant to assume that, while intelligence exists in man, the order of the world is maintained without it (I iv 8). The argument is found also in a late dialogue of Plato, the Philebus (28c-30b).27

It is highly probable that Socrates was familiar with Diogenes' work. And in view of the affinities between Diogenes' arguments and Socrates' it is reasonable to assume that in these respects Diogenes' arguments had some influence on Socrates. Yet there is a good deal more in Socrates' teleological thesis than in Diogenes'. It is possible to argue, of course, that if we had all Diogenes' work, we would find a fuller and more detailed exposition of his teleological views and in all probability find there an anticipation of all Socrates' arguments. For example, it might be argued that Diogenes' serious interests in physiology28 are likely to have led him to view the structure of the human body from the standpoint of a teleological thesis about the structure of the cosmos as a whole. And it might be argued from this that Socrates' detailed arguments (Mem. I iv 5-12)—to show that there is evidence of intelligent design in the purposive adaptation of means to ends in the structure of the human body—are in all probability taken from Diogenes.

But these speculative arguments carry little conviction. If Diogenes had indeed anticipated Socrates in the full range and direction of his teleological arguments, then it becomes quite incomprehensible that Diogenes should not be mentioned along with Anaxagoras in the account of the Phaedo as a teleological type of thinker. For what is said in the Phaedo about Anaxagoras as a possible pioneer in teleological thinking seems eminently fair in its assessment and criticisms; Aristotle has much the same criticism to make, and the extant fragments generally confirm the rightness of that criticism. So is it at all likely that Plato would at the same time be so singularly unfair as to suppress all reference to Diogenes' teleological views if Diogenes had in fact been the sort of teleologist that Socrates is in the Memorabilia?

It seems clear, then, from Plato's lack of reference to Diogenes29 in the account of the Phaedo, that Plato cannot have thought of Diogenes as at all important as a teleological thinker. The probability is that he ranked Diogenes with Anaxagoras as a natural scientist who did recognise the mark of intelligent design in the structure of the world but who was content to rely in his detailed explanations on a mechanical notion of causation. The reason for selecting Anaxagoras rather than Diogenes for special mention as a possible pioneer in teleological thinking is presumably that Anaxagoras, unlike Diogenes, introduced into his system a dualism of mind and matter30 which seemed to be a much more promising basis for a teleological theory than Diogenes' monism.

And if Plato was so unimpressed by Diogenes as a teleological thinker, it is likely that Socrates was similarly unimpressed and that he relied much less on Diogenes for his own teleological views than some scholars would maintain. For what is really distinctive about Socrates' arguments in the Memorabilia is the humanistic and moral orientation belonging to them. There is nothing of this either in Anaxagoras or in Diogenes. Diogenes does indeed speak of the direction of all things 'in the best possible way'. But there is no kind of moral connotation in this. It simply means a disposition in the most orderly or regular way, with the implication that this is in itself more admirable than a state of chaos. And there is nothing in the detail of Diogenes' cosmology or his physiological theory to suggest any sort of moral interest, or indeed to suggest anything beyond the interests of a natural scientist concerned with the mechanical explanation of natural processes.

Thus, if we look for anticipations of Socrates' arguments in the work of the fifth-century natural philosophers, we find some very general anticipation of a teleological approach, but comparatively little anticipation of either the range or the direction of Socrates' arguments. Is there anything, then, in the non-philosophical literature of the fifth century that provides any sort of parallel to Socrates' arguments?

It is clear from the tragedians that there was general recognition of a range of distinctively human abilities, skills, and advantages, which allowed man to lead a civilised life superior to that of all other animals. Sometimes these were looked on as gifts from the gods, sometimes as the results of man's own persistent endeavours in adapting himself to his environment. But there is a wide measure of agreement as to the specification of them. They are, with very little variation, the 'gifts' which Socrates appeals to (Mem. IV iii) in arguing for God's providential care of mankind. In Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides we are given much the same list—fire, water, food and shelter, the beneficial regularity of the season, the use of other animals, sailing in ships, speech, thought and the power of divination (Aeschylus P.V. 442-506; Sophocles Antigone 332-75; Euripides Supplices 201-15). The closest parallel to Socrates' argument (Mem. IV iii) is the argument of Theseus in the Supplices passage. In arguing for the view that there is a preponderance of good over evil in the world Theseus mentions as examples of the way in which God 'orders' man's life his bestowal of just those 'gifts' which Socrates mentions (IV iii 5-6, 8, 11-12).31

There can be little doubt that it is on these popular examples of man's distinctive advantages that Socrates draws when he formulates his argument for God's providential care of mankind. There is, moreover, an obviously moral significance in the use made of these examples by the tragedians. Man's enjoyment of these advantages makes his life 'better' than that of other animals. And the higher the development of his advantages, the happier he is. No doubt this moral significance recommended the examples to Socrates as the basis of one of his main teleological arguments.

Having now reviewed the possible sources in fifth-century philosophical and non-philosophical literature of Socrates' teleological views, what remains in those views which is distinctively original? In the first place he puts forward, as a theological argument, the teleological argument from design for the existence of God as an architect (demiourgos) of the order of the world. This God is both omniscient and omnibenevolent (Mem. I iv 18). In the second place he puts forward, as a moral argument, the argument for God's providential care of mankind. For he considers that this divine providence entails an obligation (IV iii 14, 17) on the part of man to 'respect what is divine' in the order of the world and to refrain from what is impious, unjust, or disgraceful (I iv 19; IV iii 14).

In this way he dissociates from the context of theories in natural science any pointers to a teleological mode of interpretation that he finds in such theories. The dualism of mind and matter which he finds in the essentially mechanical theory of Anaxagoras is given a moral and theological interpretation. And the teleological arguments within Diogenes' monistic system become part of a theology which views the order of the world in terms of a dualism. The importance of this for Socrates is that, with his exclusively moral interests, he is able to make his teleological arguments for the existence of God a basis for justifying a moral ideal. So that his originality lies essentially in the formulation of a theology which not only introduces novel arguments for the existence of God but gives a new moral significance to such arguments of a teleological kind as he takes from others.

It seems to me plausible to claim this degree of originality for Socrates. From what we know of Xenophon it is hardly conceivable that Xenophon invented any of the arguments himself. And though the terminology of the arguments still strikes me as being in some respects rather sophisticated for the time when Xenophon was writing and rather reminiscent of Stoic terminology, I am inclined to think that this is not fatal to the acceptance of the view that Xenophon, in these parts of the Memorabilia, is presenting genuinely Socratic views.32 Moreover, these views are in keeping with the convictions which are the basis of Socrates' defence of his ideals at his trial. They are in keeping with his conviction that his educational mission is a divinely appointed mission, with his conviction that man's moral aim should be to care for his soul rather than his body, and, finally, with his conviction that the good man's interests are not neglected by the gods (Plato, Apology 28d-31c, 41d). And if we add to Socrates' religious temperament his fondness for analogical arguments, we can see how readily inclined he would be to make use of the kind of analogy he finds between the practice of professional skills and moral behaviour, and to make it the basis of his argument for the existence of a divine architect of the order of the world.

So far we have tried to establish that in his teleological arguments for the existence of God the end or purpose which Socrates constantly has in view is the end of man's behaviour as a moral being, i.e. his goodness. But what sort of moral ideal is implied by Socrates' theology? It tells us that God 'knows best what things are good' (Mem. I iii 2) and that in his wisdom and benevolence he has given man the abilities and advantages which will enable him to achieve happiness. But in specifying these abilities and advantages Socrates is specifying in the main what he considers to be the principal conditions for the attainment of happiness. He is not specifying the summum bonum itself. His theology does, however, give some positive indications of what he considers to be the peculiar excellence of man.

We have seen that Socrates' view is that the providence of God entails an obligation on the part of man to 'respect what is divine' in the order of the world. The chief defining characteristic of God is reason or intelligence (nous, phronesis). And the dualism of the ordering intelligence of God and the material world he orders is conceived by Socrates on the analogy of the dualism of the human mind and body. The moral significance of this for Socrates is that man's general obligation to 'respect what is divine' entails that he should place a far greater value on the activities of mind than on those of body within the dualism of his own personality. For the relation between human and divine intelligence is such that it entails that the human mind or psyche (soul) is the greatest, the most excellent element in the human personality (Mem. I iv 13). For man's psyche is that in him which 'partakes of the divine' (Mem. IV iii 14). In his Philebus Plato was later to argue, on basically the same grounds, that nous and phrone sis must be reckoned essential ingredients of the good life (28c-30b, 64b-66b).

All this clearly adds a new dimension to our inquiry into Socrates' conception of the good. We see that Socrates views the question of moral goodness within the context of a dualism of soul and body, and justifies on theological grounds his view (i) that goodness belongs to soul rather than to body, and (ii) that it is in virtue of the nous or phronesis belonging to the human soul that the highest value can be placed on its activities. In order to give more precise definition to this moral ideal we must examine in more detail Socrates' notion of psyche.

D. The Soul

Much has been written about the development which took place in the Greek concept of soul in the two centuries before Socrates,33 and the story of these developments is, in its broad outlines, a now familiar one. But something must be said briefly about it if we are to appreciate Socrates' distinctive contributions to the meaning of the concept.

Furley has remarked that 'it is typical of the development of psyche that it comes to replace other words in more and more contexts'.34 In Homer it is a simple notion. It is the life which distinguishes the living person from the dead person. But in post-Homeric literature it is not long before the notion of soul is associated with various experiences and activities naturally associated with the living person.

In non-philosophical literature it is associated, from the early lyric poets onwards, with certain feelings and emotions—courage, grief, love, anger, etc.35 In philosophical literature there are several ways in which its use is extended. Within the materialistic theories of the natural scientists its primary sense of life is retained in most cases without attempts to extend its meaning. There are, however, a few exceptional cases in which soul is associated with intellectual activities. Heraclitus is one such case.36 But the most interesting and most explicit case is the Sophist Gorgias, in a work which is essentially a rhetorical exercise but which has some philosophical interest. The Encomium on Helen refers to both the emotional and the intellectual effect of persuasive argument on the soul. It says that wisdom (sophia) is the glory of the soul. Thus it assumes that the soul is the seat of intellectual activity as well as emotion.

Assuming that the Encomium is a genuine work of Gorgias, there still remains the difficulty of dating it. It probably belongs to the last quarter of the fifth century B.C., and thus suggests that the notion of associating the soul with intellectual activity was by then at least sufficiently acceptable in use to allow it to figure prominently in a rhetorical exercise.37

Diogenes of Apollonia appears to reflect in his work this new tendency to associate soul with intellect. We noted earlier his association of air with intelligence. And though he refers to soul (psyche) and intelligence (no e sis) separately, and is clearly not identifying soul with mind, yet the link he makes between air and intelligence is the more easily forged because he finds it possible to use psyche as his middle term. Moreover, it is clear that in his view the material substance of psyche is air, which is 'that which has intelligence' (DK.64 B 5). So the activity of noe sis can be included within the activities of soul.

Diogenes' work illustrates one further extension of the application of psyche in pre-Socratic thought. It is the connecting of the notion of psyche as life and breath in the human being with the life and motion belonging to all the processes of the physical world. This cosmic significance attached to soul is already apparent in Anaximenes.38 When it appears later in Diogenes there is added to its cosmic significance as a principle of life and motion the notion of intelligence. This marks the culmination of developments in the notion of soul within the materialistic tradition of pre-Socratic thinking.39

Outside this tradition there is one important development to be noted. It concerns the nature of the psyche which survives the death of a man. In Homer the soul survives merely as a ghost-like shade. Any thought of survival after death was naturally associated with soul, since it was the soul, as the breath of life, which deserted the body at death. But a deeper significance was given to the notion of the soul's survival by the Orphics and Pythagoreans.

This new significance is already apparent in Pythagoras' doctrine of the transmigration of souls. In a well known fragment preserved by Diogenes Laertius (VIII 36), Xenophanes tells how Pythagoras, passing by when a puppy was being beaten, took pity on it and ordered the beating to be stopped, since 'this is really the soul of a man who was my friend; I recognised it as I heard it cry out'. What is implied by this is the survival of the personal soul. And this idea of the retention of personality from one life to another is associated with the idea of 'punishment in the body' and with the further idea of 'purifying' the soul in the hope of escaping further incarnation. The Orphics spoke of the body as the prison or as the tomb of the soul. Plato refers to their belief that the incarnate soul is suffering the punishment of sin, and that the body is a prison in which the soul is incarcerated (Crat. 400c; cf. Men. 81a-e, Rep. 364e-365a).

In this way a moral significance is attached to the behaviour of the soul. But there is little reliable evidence to show that the idea of 'purifying' one's soul was associated with anything other than ritualistic procedures. It seems fairly clear that the Pythagoreans associated purification with music and poetry.40 But whether they associated it further with scientific or philosophic studies it is impossible to say. We do know that they broadened the basis of mathematics to give it the form of a 'liberal education'.41 But this in itself does not imply any link between mathematical studies and purification.

What is remarkable about these religious ideas of the soul and its immortality is that they stand right outside the naturalistic theories which represent the main tradition of pre-Socratic thought. When the Pythagoreans speculated about the nature of the soul within the context of their scientific and cosmological theory they advanced theories about it quite incompatible with their religious views of its nature.42 Empedocles, who was much influenced by these religious ideas, seems to have held some naturalistic view of the nature of soul within his general physical theory.43 But when he expresses his religious views in the Purifications he speaks of that which survives bodily death as the daimōn.44

Thus the position in the latter half of the fifth century B.C. was that the concept of psyche, while it had been examined and developed within the materialistic cos-mologies of the pre-Socratics, had attracted no serious philosophical attention as a non-naturalistic concept. As such it remained a rather vague notion within a body of religious ideas which linked it with the notions of personal survival and of purification but which did not attempt any kind of theoretical justification for any of its views.

Socrates was no doubt familiar with these developments. His religious views suggest that he was familiar with the work of Diogenes, and hence that he was familiar with the notions of giving to soul a cosmic significance and of associating it with intelligence and reason. And the dualism in his religious views also makes it highly probable that he was not only familiar with, but attracted by Orphic and Pythagorean notions of the soul. It is interesting to note in this connexion that, in his caricature of Socrates' activities in the Clouds, Aristophanes describes Socrates' school as a 'reflectory (phrontisterion) of wise souls' (94). The unusual use here of 'soul' for 'person' is a possible reflection of Pythagorean ideas about the personal survival of the soul.

It would be wrong, however, to look for any extensive influence of Pythagorean religious views on the thought of Socrates. There is nothing at all in the ancient tradition about Socrates which links him with the Pythagoreans, though much is said about the link between Plato and the Pythagoreans. And I agree with Ross that 'this must in all probability come in the long run from a tradition in the early Academy that it was not Socrates that formed the link between Plato and the Pythagoreans; and I see no reason to doubt that Plato's interest in these doctrines was largely due to his association with the Pythagoreans of Magna Graecia several years after Socrates' death.'45

All that we can plausibly grant, then, in respect of Pythagorean influence on Socrates, is influence of a very general kind in turning Socrates' thought to the idea of associating moral behaviour with the soul and also of associating the personality of a man with his soul. And in view of the intellectualism of his ethics Socrates would naturally be inclined further to associate intellectual activities with the soul and would therefore be attracted by the new tendency to extend the range of meaning of soul in that direction.

We must now consider, in relation to these influences, how much originality there is in the Socratic concept of soul. We must look in particular for any developments in the analysis of it as a non-naturalistic entity, for hitherto, as we have noted, very little attention had been given to such analysis.

We have already seen that in Xenophon's Memorabilia Socrates says that the soul is the most excellent part of a man, and that it is that in him which 'partakes of the divine'. Elsewhere in the Memorabilia he emphasises the dualism of soul and body in a way which implies that for him the soul is incorporeal. Unlike the body, the soul is invisible (I iv 9; IV iii 14). It directs the body (I iv 9, 13-14). And it is because it is the seat of reason and intelligence (nous, phronesis) that it is able to do this; for it is in the soul alone that intelligence resides (I ii 53; 1 iv 17). Moreover, a person's moral behaviour is the behaviour of his soul, not of his body. The 'performances that belong properly to the soul' are 'doing that which we ought to do' and 'refraining from that from which we ought to refrain' (I iv 19). In Plato's Crito (47e-48a) it is to the soul that Socrates implicitly refers when he distinguishes from the body 'that thing in us, whatever it is, which has to do with right or wrong.'

This dualism of soul and body is specially associated by Socrates in the Memorabilia with the notion of self-control or self-discipline (sophrosune, enkrateia). Self-control is, indeed, the key moral concept for Socrates in the Memorabilia. And he thinks of it essentially as a control of the soul over the body, just as he thinks of the lack of it as the result of a successful assault on the soul by the persuasive influences of bodily pleasures. Thus he says that 'pleasures that have been generated in the same body with the soul persuade the soul to abandon self-control and to gratify the pleasures and the body as soon as possible' (I ii 23). He speaks also of 'being a slave' to pleasures (I v 5), and says that every man ought to consider self-control to be the foundation of all virtue, and to establish it in his soul above all else (I v 4; cf. II i 20). It is in these terms that Xenophon claims that Socrates was superior to 'the pleasures of the body' (I v 6).

It is clear that this moral interpretation of the dualism of soul and body is for Socrates an additional ground for thinking that the soul, already characterised as invisible and divine, is a distinct part of a man, an entity different in kind from the body. What he says about self-control in terms of relations between body and soul constitutes in fact a new psychological argument in support of his dualistic views. And he bases on it a moral ideal, which prescribes 'care of the soul' (I ii 4) rather than of the body as the aim of the good man.

In Plato's Apology the ideal of 'care of the soul' mentioned by Xenophon is given an important place by Socrates in the defence of his activities at his trial. A measure of the importance which he gives to it is already indicated in Xenophon. For there it becomes apparent that Socrates uses the phrase 'the care of the soul' as equivalent both to 'the care of goodness' and to 'the care of oneself (I ii 2 with I ii 4 and I ii 8). The same is true of what he says in Plato's Apology (29d-30b with 31b, 36c and 41e). He is saying that in caring for the good of one's soul one is caring for one's true self.

This identification of soul with self is the conclusion of an argument in Alcibiades 1, a dialogue which cannot with any confidence be attributed to Plato but which presents a Socrates whose views can be matched in virtually all respects with the views of the Socrates of Xenophon and of Plato's early dialogues. One cannot confidently claim that the formal shape of its argument for the identification of soul with self is genuinely Socratic. But I think it fairly represents the sort of considerations which are at the back of what is a genuinely Socratic conclusion.

Here is the argument. If we ask what 'caring for one's self means (127e), we must first ask what the self is (128e). It is clear that the user of anything is in all cases different from the thing used. The person who uses his hands, eyes, and so on is therefore different from the hands and eyes he uses. More generally, a man is different from the body as a whole which he uses. It is his soul which uses his body. And since man must be soul or body or both together, and since, as user of his body, he cannot be body or body and soul together, it follows that 'either man is nothing at all, or, if he is something, he turns out to be nothing else than soul'. The soul, then, is man (129b-130c).

This is just the view that Plato represents Socrates as taking at the end of the Phaedo (115c-d). Crito asks Socrates in what way he and his friends should bury him. 'In whatever way you like', says Socrates, 'if you can catch me'. The real Socrates, he points out, is the one at present taking part in discussion with them and marshalling the various arguments, not the one soon to be seen as a corpse. And he associates this view with the confident hope that this self will survive the death of the body.

Are we able to accept as Socratic this belief in personal immortality attributed to him by Plato in the Phaedo? It is certainly a belief in keeping with the conception of soul as a divine, invisible, and non-bodily entity which constitutes the true self. For to think of the soul in that way is to think of it as something which is not subject to the physical laws which govern the 'coming to be' and 'passing away' of the material body; at the same time the 'true self is dissociated from what is subject to those laws. Hence it is possible to think of one's self as not subject to death in the sense in which the body is subject to death.

Socrates seems to have been content to hope, on the basis of these convictions, that his soul would in fact survive the death of his body, without pretending to have any certainty that this would be the case. This is the impression given by Plato's account in the Apology of his concluding remarks at his trial. 'Death', says Socrates, 'must be one of two things—either to have no consciousness at all of anything whatever, or else, as some say, to be a kind of change and migration of the soul from this world to another' (40c). And he adds that he would be ready 'to die many deaths' if the latter alternative was true (41a).

It is essentially the Socratic concept of soul which Plato attempts to justify in the Phaedo, on much more elaborate theoretical grounds than Socrates appears to have done. Plato himself soon abandoned the Phaedo's severely intellectual conception of the soul. For, once he had committed himself to the identification of the self with the substantial soul, Plato increasingly felt it necessary to widen his conception of soul beyond its intellectual activities. For there were non-intellectual activities which he found it impossible to dissociate from his notion of a person. Yet the Phaedo, while it allows us to see the difficulty of giving a satisfactory theoretical justification of Socrates' concept of soul, is at the same time the finest of tributes to its philosophical influence and importance.46

One thing which the Phaedo emphasises, and which Socrates himself emphasises, is the practical moral importance of understanding the nature of the soul and its relation to the body. His ideal of 'caring for the soul' is a moral ideal. It is essentially the same ideal which we found to be implied by his religious views. But what Socrates says in moral contexts about the distinction between soul and body gives to this ideal a little further specification.

For one thing, it gives practical significance to Socrates' view of the self-sufficiency of the morally good man who 'cares for his soul'. Like Socrates himself, such a man will be content with small material means and will have iron self-control in respect of all bodily pleasures (Xen. Mem. I ii 4-5, 14, 19-23). For to become a slave to bodily pleasures is to 'corrupt' the soul (Mem. IV 3-5). With regard to food, drink, dress, or sexual pleasures, Socrates' view is that these are things of the body and that only a very small regard for them is compatible with the moral self-sufficiency which belongs to the soul (Mem. II i).

This is, of course, the attitude of the Phaedo. It is also the attitude of the Socrates of Plato's Apology. Do not care, he says there, for one's body or for money and fame and reputation, but for truth and wisdom and making one's soul as good as it can be (29d-30b). And Socrates himself practised what he preached. He took no money for his instruction, and lived in poverty (19de, 23b-c, 3lb-c).

This dualism of soul and body in Socrates' thought provides, then, a further context within which to appreciate his conception of the good life. It is from this viewpoint that many of the personal habits of Socrates caricatured by Aristophanes in the Clouds can best be appreciated. Negatively, the good life is a life of frugality and abstinence as far as material possessions and the indulgence of desires classed as bodily are concerned. Positively, it is a life devoted to making oneself 'as wise as possible'. For to 'care for one's soul' is to care for making oneself 'as wise as possible' (Xen. Mem. I ii 55). And self-control, the key moral notion of the Memorabilia, is equated by Socrates, in conformity with his thesis that virtue is knowledge, with 'wisdom' (sophia) (Mem. III ix 4).

E. Conclusion

Although we are now able to form a fairly definite picture of the Socratic good, a major problem still remains. Reason and intelligence (nous, phronesis), says Socrates, belong essentially and exclusively to the soul. So to 'care for one's soul' is to care above all else for the full exercise and development of one's reason and intelligence. And his own example of a life devoted to free and independent criticism and inquiry in ethics seems to be intended by Socrates to be an example of what he means by exercising one's reason and intelligence to the full. But is it a sufficient definition of the good, in Socrates' view? For it still seems legitimate to ask what we asked at the end of our examination of his political views, i.e. whether the life of unremitting and unfettered criticism and analysis, as practised by Socrates, sufficiently specifies the good life, or whether Socrates values such activity as a means of establishing what is the good.

In favour of the latter alternative it can be argued that Socrates' search for general definitions in ethics is presented by Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle as at once an example of independent criticism and analysis and a method of discovering what is the good. In favour of the former alternative much more can, I think, be said. When we looked at Socrates' political views as a guide to his moral ideals we saw that those views placed a special value on the life of free and independent criticism and inquiry. This moral estimate is entirely consistent with Socrates' speculative views in theology and psychology. For both his theology and his psychology are designed to justify the claim that supreme moral value belongs to the intellectual activities of the human soul.

Moreover, if we accept the account in Plato's Apology as the clearest and most direct statement of Socrates' moral convictions, we find him saying there that the post which God has assigned to him is that of 'living a life of philosophy, examining himself and others' (28e). 'The greatest of all human goods', he says later, 'is to discuss virtue and the other things you hear me arguing about in my examination of myself and others. An unexamined life is not worth living' (38a). And in his concluding remarks he expresses the hope, not only that his soul will survive the death of his body, but also that in the after-life his soul will continue its activity of critical examination. For he is convinced that even then the 'greatest thing of all' for the soul will be 'to go on examining and questioning the men of that world in the same way as the men of this, to see who is wise among them, and who thinks he is, but is not. To converse with men there and associate with them and examine them would be happiness unspeakable' (41b-c).

Thus the life dedicated to philosophy is, for Socrates, the good life. And by this he means a life dedicated to the critical analysis which he himself has practised for the best part of his life. Clearly, in the Apology, he thinks of this activity as constituting in itself the good, and not as a means to attaining goodness by establishing what the good is.

In the light of this, Socrates' thesis that virtue is knowledge gains an additional significance. In this thesis knowledge means knowledge of what is the good. And the thesis means, as we have seen, that this knowledge is both a necessary and a sufficient condition of being good and thus of doing what is good. We have now examined Socrates' own conception of what is the good, and we have concluded that it was Socrates' conviction that the good is sufficiently defined in terms of the philosophical activity of 'examining oneself and others' by the method of critical analysis which he himself practised. Moreover, his educational mission assumes that this specification of the good is one which is possible for others to realise for themselves to be true. Thus it is, for Socrates, an objective specification which is valid as a standard of goodness for all men.

The thesis that virtue is knowledge becomes, therefore, the thesis that knowing that the good is specifiable in the above terms is a necessary and sufficient condition of practising what is thus specified as good. For I can see no good reason for not assuming that Socrates' convictions as regards the specification of the good were considered by him to amount to knowledge of the good, and, further, that he saw his educational mission as one which aimed to realise this knowledge in others.

The thesis that all the virtues are one also takes on a new descriptive significance when it is considered in the light of Socrates' specification of the good. This specification expresses the deep moral convictions which are reflected, as we saw, in Socrates' views about the soul and in his political and religious views. Against the background of these views it is easy to appreciate that the Socratic moral ideal of wholehearted dedication to the life of philosophy embraces and unifies all the accepted Greek virtues. It is a pious life, for to practise philosophy is to care for that element in man which 'partakes of the divine'. It is a courageous life, for it is a life which in all circumstances confidently and unswervingly follows the path of goodness, even at the risk of death. It is a life of self-control, for the conviction of its goodness is always strong enough to ensure that the care of the soul takes precedence over the care of the body. And it is a just life. For it is a life which respects the right of the individual to pursue his good and shrinks from doing any wrong to others, even if others have done wrong to oneself.

It remains true, of course, that Socrates' definition of what is the good is not a formal conclusion reached by his method of analysis. It is the expression of a moral conviction which the practice of his method of analysis itself helped to create. Socrates himself did not, it is clear, analyse as fully as he might have done the grounds of his conviction that his definition of the good was certainly true. Since all his speculative thinking in ethics led him to what seemed a certain conclusion about the good, he was perhaps able to persuade himself not only that the life of philosophy was the good life but also that the practise of it served to substantiate the truth of that view.

Aristotle saw clearly enough the limitations of Socrates' analysis. He is ready to accept Socrates' moral paradoxes except for their complete denial that there are cases of weakness of will. But he realises the need to analyse more fully the notion of moral knowledge, and is severely critical of Socrates' intellectualism in so far as it seemed to him to assume that the use of the intellect was sufficient to establish what is the good and thereby to ensure that the good is done. His criticism is valuable for the proper understanding of Socratic ethics. For quite apart from its contribution to the problem of weakness of will, its analysis of the nature of moral knowledge reveals just those features of moral knowledge which belong to Socrates' own convictions as to what the good is but which Socrates himself seems not to have recognised.

In this chapter we have examined Socrates' conception of the good, and we have argued that Socrates' moral paradoxes gain a new significance from their association with his conception of what is the good. Socrates does not think of them merely as the results of an analysis of the Greeks' moral language, nor does he consider them to be true only in an analytic sense. He considers them to be true also as practical principles of moral behaviour. For he considers that any person who is brought to share his own conviction as to what is the good will invariably practise that good. That he is able to think of his moral paradoxes as practical truths in this way is a measure of the intensity of his conviction that the good life is the life of philosophy.

This Socratic moral ideal had a considerable influence on all subsequent Greek ethics, the more so because of Socrates' remarkable personal example in remaining faithful to it in practice, even though he had to die for it. Both Plato and Aristotle were inspired by Socrates to find in the life of philosophy their ideal of human goodness. Yet his influence on their thought was much more than an influence in shaping their particular moral ideals. He determined in large part the direction of their philosophical inquiries. And in his method they found a pattern for fruitful philosophical analysis.


1 Zeller, Die Philosophie der Griechen, ii I (5th ed., 1922), p. 152, suggests, on the basis of this evidence, that Socrates appears to hold that there is no absolute, but only a relative good, no standard for good and bad except advantage and disadvantage.

2Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. 25, p. 36.

3 Ibid.

4The Open Society and its Enemies, vol. i (4th ed., 1962), p. 131.

5 Ibid. pp. 124-5.

6 Ibid. p. 126.

7 Ibid. p. 127. Popper's italics.

8 The distinction between 'what the state has' and 'the state itself is meant to distinguish material prosperity and military power from the moral well-being of the state. Compare Plato's remarks at Gorgias 519a, where he complains of fifth-century statesmen that 'they have filled the state with harbours and docks and walls and revenues and trash of that kind, to the neglect of moderation and justice'.

9 See Mem. III vi-vii; IV i-ii.

10 Plato Apol. 39c-d.

11 Op. cit. p. 191.

12 Popper, op. cit. p. 194. 'Plato, his most gifted disciple, was soon to prove the least faithful. He betrayed Socrates, just as his uncles had done.… Plato tried to implicate Socrates in his grandiose attempt to construct the theory of the arrested society; and he had no difficulty in succeeding, for Socrates was dead.'

13 Popper, op. cit. p. 301.

14 Cf. Plato Republic 387d-e.

15 Plato Crito 49a-e. There are places in Xenophon's Memorabilia where Socrates appears to approve of the traditional virtue of benefiting friends and harming enemies (II iii 14; II vi 35). But I do not think, in view of their contexts, that they can be pressed as expressions of Socrates' serious views. See Burnet's note on Crito 49b 1O (Plato's Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, and Crito (Oxford, 1924), pp. 198-9).

16 Cf. Professor H. L. A. Hart's remarks ('Immorality and Treason', The Listener, 30 July 1959) in criticism of the view that the function of human law should be not merely to provide men with the opportunity for leading a good life, but to see that they actually do lead it.

17 Hackforth's translation (Plato's Phaedo (1955), pp. 124-6).

18 See DK.60 A 1-3, A 5, A 7.

19 I am thinking of the use, in the context of an argument for theism, of such words and phrases as sophoutinos dēmiourgou kai philozou technēmati (I iv 7), pronoia and pronoē tikos (I iv 6 and IV iii 7), ho ton holon kosmon syntattōn and noēmatos anamartētōs hypēretounta (IV iii 13). Compare with this sort of language the Latin of Cicero's account of Stoic theology at D.N.D. 11 113 ff., and the Greek of Diogenes' summary of Zeno's views (Diogenes Laertius VII, 147-8).

20 K. Lincke, Neue Jahrbucher fur Klassische Altertum, xvii (1906), pp. 673-91.

21Phaedo 97c. For Anaxagoras' own statement on this see DK.59 B 12: 'And whatever things were going to be, and whatever things existed that are not now, and all things that now exist and whatever shall exist—Mind arranged them all, including the revolution now followed by the stars, the sun and moon, and the air and the aether which are being separated off.'

22 DK.59 A 47.

23 DK.64 B 3.

24 DK.64 B 5.

25 Theophrastus, De sensu, 42.

26 Cic. Tusc. Disp. 120, 46; noted by W. K. C. Guthrie in A History of Greek Philosophy, vol. ii (1962), p. 374, n. 2.

27 W. Jaeger, in The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers (Oxford, 1947), p. 246, n. 91, argued that the Philebus passage 'proved' that at Mem. I iv 8 Xenophon is 'making his Socrates pronounce doctrines of pre-Socratic origin', since 'in the Philebus Socrates expressly names some earlier philosophers of nature as his source for this argument to which he subscribes'. Socrates does not in fact name any one when he refers at 28d, e to 'earlier philosophers'. And all he ascribes to them is the general thesis that mind (nous) is ruler over everything. When he says at 30d that the argument from human to cosmic intelligence gives support to that general thesis he implies that 'earlier philosophers' who subscribed to the general thesis did not have this particular argument. No doubt he is thinking of Anaxagoras, and possibly also of Diogenes, as the philosophers who maintained that mind is ruler over everything.

28 See DK.64 B 6.

29 A possible implicit reference is at Phaedo 96b, where Socrates mentions the theory that it is air that we think with as a theory he encountered in his early inquiries in natural science. The context of the reference shows that it is not considered to be a theory with any teleological implications.

30 See especially DK.59 A 41, with the remarks of G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers (Cambridge, 1957), p. 375.

31 The most probable date for the Supplices is about 420 B.C. Possibly Euripides is adapting to his own purposes at 201-15 what he had heard from Socrates.

32 For the terminology see note 19 above. Cf. Jaeger's comments (op. cit. pp. 244-5, n. 76) on the use by Xenophon's Socrates at Mem. I iv 7 of the term di miourgos. Jaeger thinks that 'it is perfectly believable that this term had been used by previous philosophers who, like Diogenes, interpreted nature in this teleological way'.

33 See especially D. J. Furley, The Early History of the Concept of Soul (University of London, Institute of Classical Studies, Bulletin no. 3 (1956), pp. 1-18), with references there to the most important recent literature on the subject.

34 Ibid. p. 6.

35 E.g., Pindar, Pythian 147; Nemean 9, 32: Aeschylus, Persae 840: Sophocles, O.C. 498; Phil. 1013; fr. 101: Euripides, Hippolytus 504, 526, 1006; Herodotus III 14, V 124; Thucydides 11 40 3.

36 DK.22 B 45, 107, 117, 118.

37 See also Euripides, Orestes 1180, and Antiphon, De Caede Herodis 93.

38 DK.13 A 2.

39 In most important respects it is, of course, the theory of the Greek atomists which marks the culmination of this tradition of thought, and their views on the soul are perhaps, for that reason, worth mentioning here. Democritus associated the soul with life and also with sensation. As Aristotle says (De An. 403b25-8), sensation is one of the two chief characteristics in which that which has soul is thought to differ from that which has not. Democritus' view was that the soul is concerned with what is perceptible, whereas the mind (nous) is concerned with 'truth'. A condition of correctness of thought was, however, that the mixture of atoms constituting the soul should be a 'harmonious' one (DK.68 A 113, A 135, sec. 58). Democritus follows the general practice of pre-Socratic scientists in not allotting to the soul itself intellectual activities. Even at the end of the fifth century the idea of allotting intellectual activity to the soul was an unconventional one.

40 DK.58 D 1. The authorities for this are Aristoxenus and lamblichus.

41 DK.14, 6a.

42 Aristotle De An. 404a, 407b with Plato Phaedo 86bd.

43 Aristotle De An. 408a.

44 DK.31 B 115.

45Proceedings of the Classical Association, vol. xxx (1933), p. 22.

46 In my account of Socrates' conception of the soul, as well as of his religious views, I have leaned rather heavily on Xenophon's Memorabilia. It might be argued that Xenophon is taking the essential parts of his own account of these matters from Plato, and especially from the Phaedo, and that his testimony therefore has no independent worth. But we have seen that in his account of Socrates' religious views Xenophon goes well beyond what he could have got from the Phaedo. And his remarks about the soul and the notion of 'caring for the soul' are made in contexts which distinguish his account quite clearly from any account which is simply a literal borrowing from the Phaedo. Even in the very fragmentary remains of the Socratic dialogues of Aeschines of Sphettus we find some reflection of Socrates' notion of 'caring for oneself and of his religious views (Aeschinis Socratici Reliquiae, ed. Krauss: Alcibiades, fr. I, lines 49-64).

W. K. C. Guthrie (essay date 1969)

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SOURCE: "Philosophical Significance," in A History of Greek Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 1969, pp. 417-88.

[In the following excerpt, Guthrie assesses the contribution of Socrates to the field of philosophy, arguing that Socrates's work marked a shift in philosophic thought from contemplation of the nature of the universe to contemplation of the problems of human life.]

'Philosophia de Caelo Devocata'

For the Greeks themselves the name of Socrates formed a watershed in the history of their philosophy. The reason they give for this is that he turned men's eyes from the speculations about the nature of the physical world which had been characteristic of the Presocratic period, and concentrated attention on the problems of human life. In the most general terms, his message was that to investigate the origin and ultimate matter of the universe, the composition and motions of the heavenly bodies, the shape of the earth or the causes of natural growth and decay was of far less importance than to understand what it meant to be a human being and for what purpose one was in the world. This estimate of Socrates as a turning-point can be traced to Aristotle, though he does not perhaps give it such incontrovertible support as later writers supposed, and the exaggeratedly schematic view of Greek philosophy which it suggests was the work of the Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman periods. The chief testimonies in Aristotle are these:

  1. In the first chapter of De partibus animalium he is asserting the importance of recognizing the formal-final cause as well as the necessary or material. This had not been clear to earlier thinkers because they had no adequate conception of essence ('what it is to be' so-and-so) nor of how to define the real being of anything. Democritus had an inkling of it,1 'and in Socrates's time an advance was made as to the method, but the study of nature was given up …, and philosophers turned their attention to practical goodness and political science' (642a 28).
  2. Metaph. 987b Iff. (and 1078b 17 which repeats it in slightly different words) assigns the change more definitely to Socrates. Aristotle is explaining Plato's theory of transcendent forms as having arisen out of the problem of how knowledge could be possible in a world which, as the Heracliteans seemed to have demonstrated, was in a perpetual state of flux. This theory he had encountered in his young days.

But when Socrates was busying himself with ethical questions to the complete neglect of nature as a whole, and was seeking in them for the universal and directing the mind for the first time to definitions, Plato, accepting his teaching, came to the conclusion that it applied to something other than the sensible world: the common definition, he reasoned, could not apply to any of the sensibles, since they were always changing.

It will be seen that in both these passages the switch from natural to ethical philosophy comes in by the way. The subject of both is what Aristotle consistently regarded as Socrates's chief contribution to scientific thought, namely his demand for definitions. The first does not even ascribe the switch to Socrates but to philosophers in his time, which is obviously correct. The second does not say that Socrates had never been interested in the study of external nature, but only that he had abandoned it by the time that Plato came into contact with him. Given that Plato was not only old enough to be interested in philosophy but had already been impressed by the difficulties of Heraclitean doctrine, this can hardly have been before his sixty-second year.

The tradition of Socrates as the philosopher who 'brought philosophy down from the skies' became widespread in the Hellenistic period, perhaps under the influence of the Stoic Panaetius,2 and is familiar to us from Cicero. Its popularity has made it, whatever its historical basis, an important element in the history of thought. After speaking of Pythagoras Cicero says (Tusc. 5.4.10):

Ancient philosophy up to Socrates, who was taught by Archelaus the pupil of Anaxagoras, dealt with number and movement, and the source from which all things arise and to which they return; and these early thinkers inquired zealously into the magnitude, intervals and courses of the stars, and all celestial matters. But Socrates first called philosophy down from the sky, set it in the cities and even introduced it into homes, and compelled it to consider life and morals, good and evil.

And in the Academica (1.4.15):

Socrates I think—indeed it is universally agreed—was the first to divert philosophy from matters which nature herself has wrapped in obscurity, with which all philosophers before him had been concerned, and apply it to ordinary life, directing its inquiries to virtues and vices, and in general to good and evil. Celestial phenomena he regarded as beyond our comprehension, or at any rate, however well we might understand them, as irrelevant to the good life.

One may well wonder where the Sophists come in in all this. In the Brutus (8.30-1) Cicero acknowledges that they existed and that Socrates was acting in opposition to them. He introduces them mainly as rhetorical teachers (rhetoric being the subject of the Brutus), but sees the moral import of their teaching. As the power of expert oratory came to be recognized, he says, there arose a class of instructors in the art. This was the time when Gorgias, Protagoras, Prodicus, Hippias and many others rose to fame by claiming, arrogantly enough, to teach how speech could make the weaker cause the stronger.

Socrates opposed them [he goes on] and used to refute their instruction by his own subtle brand of argument. His fertile talk gave rise to a succession of accomplished thinkers, and it is claimed that then for the first time philosophy was discovered—not the philosophy of nature, which was older, but this which we are speaking of, whose subject is good and evil, and the life and manners of men.

If Socrates alone brought about the revolution which redirected men's thoughts from nature to human affairs, the whole first part of this volume has been written in vain. It is one of those cliches or over-simplifications of which written history is full. No doubt the assumption was that the Sophists did not deserve the name of philosophers. The great tradition running from Socrates through Plato to Aristotle already had the upper hand, and with the notable exception of the Epicureans, most schools, however diverse, liked to think of themselves as the heirs of Socratic thought. On the complex causes of the switch of interest from natural science to human affairs enough has already been said. More interesting now is the much disputed question whether it took place not only in the fifth century at large but in the mind of Socrates himself. Cicero does not deny it any more than Aristotle; indeed by linking Socrates with Archelaus and Anaxagoras he strongly suggests it, and there is much contemporary evidence in its support.

Much of what Cicero says could have been taken from Xenophon, whose contention is, briefly, that on the one hand Socrates was entirely guiltless of the charge of teaching 'what goes on in the heavens and beneath the earth', with all that that implied of atheism and impiety; but on the other hand this was not for want of knowledge: he was himself well versed in such sciences, but disparaged them as being of no practical use. In the first chapter of the Memorabilia (11 ff.) we are told that he 'never discussed' nature in general—the origin of the cosmos, or the laws governing celestial phenomena—as most philosophers did. Xenophon gives four reasons why he dismissed all this as folly:3 (a) It is wrong to neglect the study of human affairs, which concern us much more nearly, so long as knowledge of them is so incomplete;4 (b) no two scientists agree5 even on fundamental questions such as whether the sum of things is one or infinitely many, whether everything moves or nothing moves, whether everything comes into existence and decays or nothing does; (c) natural science is of no practical use: studying the laws governing winds, waters and seasons does not give one power over these things; (d) not only are the secrets of the universe unfathomable, but to pry into them is displeasing to the gods.6

Xenophon lays great emphasis on the primarily utilitarian character of Socrates's arguments. In general this was right. Socrates was an intensely practical person, and his equation of the good with what was useful or beneficial comes out as clearly in some of Plato's dialogues.7 One may suspect, however, that having learned this, Xenophon sometimes made his own choice of examples according to his more commonplace ideas of what was truly beneficial, and that Socrates had other things in mind. Socrates, he says, advised studying geometry so far as it was necessary for measuring a plot of land to be bought or sold, or calculating the profit it would yield. Similarly astronomy should be learned in order to tell the time, the month and the year, in planning a journey, setting a watch and so on. Enough could be picked up from people like night hunters and pilots. 'But he strongly deprecated going so far as to study bodies revolving in different courses, planets and comets, or wearing oneself out in calculating their distances from the earth, their periods and the causes of them. He could see no use in it.' It is in this chapter too (Mem. 4.7.1-5) that he insists that Socrates knew what he was talking about. In the higher mathematics he was 'not inexperienced', and in the 'useless' parts of astronomy 'not uninstructed'.

All this accords sufficiently with the 'autobiographical' passage in Plato's Phaedo (96a ff.) to give good grounds for crediting the latter with some historical truth.8 Socrates is there made to say that 'when he was young' he developed a passion for natural philosophy in the hope that it would explain the 'why' of things—why they are here, why they ever came into being, why they perish again. He studied the current theories of the origin of life, of physiology, psychology, astronomy and cosmology, but found them all unsatisfying and concluded that he had no aptitude for such subjects. His hopes were again raised by hearing that Anaxagoras had named 'mind' as the first cause, but dashed once more when he found that in its details Anaxagoras's system was just another set of physical theories like the rest. The distinctive character of mind as cause was simply ignored, and the explanations alleged were as material and mechanical as if intelligence had no part in them. Since Socrates remained convinced that a thing could only be explained in terms of its function, he gave up natural science after this and turned to entirely different methods of inquiry.

Plato uses this narrative for his own purposes, but it would be strange indeed if it had no basis in fact. To the inherent improbability may be added the congruence of the account with information from Xenophon, and with the equally reasonable supposition that the representation of Socrates in the Clouds is a farcical exaggeration of certain known trends of his thought rather than based on nothing at all. At the time of the Clouds Plato was a little boy, and may have slipped in the word 'young' about the Socrates of those days, so long before he knew him, even though he was a man of forty-six. Much more probably Aristophanes knew quite well that Socrates's enthusiasm for science had been on the wane for a long time: if he had ever embraced it, that was quite a sufficient handle for comedy,9 once Aristophanes had decided to make Socrates the collective repository of most of his bêtes noires. The statement of Aristotle that the investigation of nature 'ceased' … in the time of Socrates is an exaggeration. One has only to think of Diogenes of Apollonia, Archelaus (whose association with Socrates is probably historical … and some of the Sophists themselves—Gorgias the pupil of Empedocles, and interested in his theory of pores and effluences, Alcidamas the author of a Physicus, Antiphon in the Truth, perhaps also Critias.10 Democritus too was active until after the death of Socrates, though it is a moot point how much his work was known at Athens.

There is thus impressive evidence for a period in the life of Socrates when he was intensely interested in natural science. It would take a lot to shake it, but some have seen it all overthrown—Aristophanes, Xenophon, and Plato himself in the Phaedo—by some pleas of Socrates in the Apology, a work which all sides in the dispute accept as historical. At 18b he denies that he is 'a wise man who theorizes about the heavens and has investigated everything beneath the earth, and makes the weaker argument the stronger', and at 23 d he says these are the stock charges hurled at any philosopher whose accusers are at a loss for material. At 19 c he adds,

You have seen it yourselves in the comedy of Aristophanes, someone called Socrates swinging around, declaring that he is treading the air and pouring out a great deal more nonsense about things of which I haven't the slightest understanding. I don't mean to disparage such knowledge … but the fact is that I take no interest in it. Moreover I can call most of you as witnesses to this, and I beg all who have ever listened to me talking (and there are a great many such) to inform each other by saying whether any of you have ever heard me discourse either much or little on these topics.

There is, then, the evidence that we have previously considered and there is this. It all happened some 2,400 years ago and our information is far from adequate. We cannot hope to know all that lies behind it. But it is reasonable to claim that these words of Socrates cannot annihilate all the rest. Assuming that they were actually used by him in his defence, we need not accuse him of 'lying for the sake of saving his skin'.11 His study of the natural world may have ended forty years before, and was in any case an inquiry undertaken to satisfy himself. He never taught it publicly nor promulgated any theories of his own,12 though no doubt he would eagerly debate the current theories with a few chosen friends. When he took to going round Athens accosting worthy citizens and questioning them, or talking to any bright young men whom he saw in the palaestra, it was because he had already recognized the futility of the scientists' speculations and the urgent need to know oneself, to find out 'what is pious, what impious; what fine, what ugly; what is just, what is unjust; what is prudence, madness, courage or cowardice; what is a state and what a statesman; what is meant by governing men, and what is a governor'.13 If these were the questions that he had been pressing on the attention of all and sundry for the last thirty or forty years, can anyone say that his claim of indifference to natural science, made when he was on trial for his life, was falsified by an earlier period of study in it? In any case he had never taken it up for its own sake, or with the same questions in mind as the physical theorists themselves. His question was 'Why?' Why should there be a world like this, and why should we be in it? At first he thought this was what the scientists were asking too, and plunged into their discussions, until he discovered that they were only interested in the question how it all came about. Diogenes of Apollonia may have been an exception,14 and it is noteworthy that in characterizing Socrates as a scientist it is first and foremost the air-theories of Diogenes which Aristophanes puts into his mouth. But Socrates may have already broken with natural science when Diogenes wrote, and while acknowledging his teleological tendency was not likely to be attracted back by a materialistic theory which embodied the directing power in one of the physical elements. Nevertheless, when he became unpopular with those in power, his earlier interest in the subject could be brought up against him like the youthful left-wing escapades of some respected American senator or philosopher today.

Socrates gave up science for ethics, the study of nature for the pursuit of practical principles. But, perhaps because of his early scientific studies, he insisted that ethics itself was a field of exact knowledge calling for the application of rigorous scientific method. For this method Aristotle believed that science would be for ever in his debt, while he deplored its exercise in a sphere to which he considered it inappropriate. In Aristotle's eyes (as Gigon has pointed out) Socrates plays a double role in the history of philosophy: he produced a method and a principle indispensable for the proper study and classification of natural phenomena, while at the same time his name marks the end of the scientific and the beginning of the ethical epoch in philosophy.15 If the word philosophy is taken in its strict sense, as the search for knowledge, the old tradition was justified that he and he alone brought philosophy into human life. That is, he sought to make ethics and politics the subject of a scientific inquiry which should reveal universal laws or truths, in opposition to the scepticism and relativism that had turned all things into matters of opinion and left men's minds at the mercy of the persuader with the smoothest tongue. Even a Protagoras could not escape from this; a Gorgias or a Polus gloried in it.…

Virtue Is Knowledge

Three fundamental theses of Socrates are so closely related as to form scarcely separable parts of a single whole. They are: virtue is knowledge; its converse, that wrongdoing can only be due to ignorance and must therefore be considered involuntary; and 'care of the soul' as the primary condition of living well. As far as possible, something will be said about each in turn.

The Socratic paradox (as it is usually called) that virtue is knowledge bears directly on the characteristically fifth-century controversy over the method of acquiring it, whether by teaching or otherwise; and for this reason it has been necessary to say something about it already.16 It puts Socrates squarely among his contemporaries, the great Sophists with whom he was crossing swords when Plato was unborn or an infant. We have also noted the wide sense of arete in earlier and current use (e.g. 'the arete of carpentry or any other craft', …, which must have made the 'paradox' less paradoxical in his own time, and also makes it essential to remember that, if we use the English word 'virtue', it is only as a counter to stand for the Greek expression.17

Once again let us start from Aristotle, about whose general value as a source enough has been said already. In this case much of what he says can be traced back to the Platonic dialogues, but he has not on this account confused Socrates with Plato. That is plain from the undoubtedly genuine references, and is stated explicitly if we may take the following passage from the Magna Moralia (as we surely may) to represent Aristotle's opinion. In a brief historical survey the writer mentions first Pythagoras, then Socrates, then Plato, distinguishing the last two thus:18

The effect of his [sc. Socrates's] making the virtues into branches of knowledge was to eliminate the irrational part of the soul, and with it emotion and moral character. So his treatment of virtue was in this respect mistaken. After him Plato, rightly enough, divided the soul into the rational and irrational parts and explained the appropriate virtues of each.

This is valuable information, comparable to what Aristotle tells us about the difference between the Socratic and Platonic treatment of universals, and justifies a belief that what he has taken from Plato as Socratic is genuinely so. It excludes the 'Socrates' of the Republic and many other dialogues, and is supported, as we shall see, by Xenophon. At the same time, in his concise and more advanced terminology Aristotle presents us with the 'virtue-is-knowledge' doctrine in its most uncompromising form, in order to point out its shortcomings and contrast it with his own. We may look at it in this form first, and afterwards consider whether its intellectual severity needs any mitigation if we are to get at the mind of Socrates himself.

Aristotle repeats several times that Socrates said or thought that 'the virtues are sciences' or a single virtue (courage) 'is a science'.19 This he interpreted as an unqualified intellectualism, reached by analogy with pure science and with the practical arts. So EE 1216b 2ff.:

Socrates believed that knowledge of virtue was the final aim, and he inquired what justice is, and what courage and every other kind of virtue. This was reasonable in view of his conviction that all the virtues were sciences, so that to know justice was at the same time to be just; for as soon as we have learned geometry and architecture we are architects and geometricians. For this reason he inquired what virtue is, but not how or from what it is acquired.

Aristotle comments that this is true of the theoretical sciences but not of the productive, in which knowledge is only a means to a further end, e.g. health in medicine, law and order in political science. Therefore to know what virtue is matters less than to know what conditions will produce it, 'for we do not want to know what courage or justice is, but to be brave or just, just as we wish to be healthy rather than to know what health is'. This antithesis is one to make Socrates turn in his grave; 'for', he would protest, 'how can I know how virtue is acquired when I don't even know what it is?'20 Aristotle on the other hand lays it down as his general policy for an ethical treatise (EN 1103b 26): 'The present study does not aim at theoretical knowledge as others do, for the object of our inquiry is not to know what goodness is but to become good.' Even if one were to agree with Socrates that knowledge of the nature of courage or justice is a necessary precondition of becoming brave or just,21 it would be difficult to concede that it is a sufficient one. Elsewhere (1144b 18) Aristotle himself admits that Socrates was partly right: right in saying that reason was a sine qua non of virtue, but wrong in identifying the two.

In Plato's Protagoras, as part of an argument for the unity of virtue, Socrates tries to maintain that courage, like any other virtue, is knowledge, because in any dangerous enterprise—diving in a confined space, cavalry engagements, light-armed combat—the trained expert will show more courage than the ignorant. Thus courage is knowledge of what is and what is not to be feared.22 In an obvious reference to this passage, Aristotle asserted that its claim is the opposite of the truth.23 Some may be cowards but face what appear to others to be dangers because they know them not to be dangers at all, e.g. in war there are many false alarms which the trained and experienced soldier can recognize as such; but in general. those who face dangers owing to experience are not really brave. Those who are skilled at climbing masts, he says, are confident not because they know what is to be feared but because they know what aids are available to them in dangers. The example is similar to Socrates's of the divers, and he would hardly have considered it to invalidate his point. In fact however he was arguing at a different level, as he shows at a later stage (354a-b). Courage is not to be considered in isolation, because all virtue is one, to be summed up as the knowledge of what is ultimately good or evil. At this level death itself may not be an evil to be feared, if one knows that it may result in a greater amount of good, for instance the freedom of one's country. The paradoxical nature of the doctrine appears in a comparison with the superficially similar words of Pericles in the funeral oration (Thuc. 2.40.3): some are made bold by ignorance, he says, but the bravest are those who recognize most clearly what things are fearful and what enjoyable, and are not by this knowledge deterred from dangers. By this high but orthodox standard, men face physical dangers although they know them to be fearful; according to Socrates, they face them in the knowledge that what may happen to them is not an evil at all, if it is more beneficial than cowardice to the real self, the psyche.

Aristotle's chief objection to the doctrine is that which would occur to most people, namely that it makes no allowance for weakness of will, lack of self-control, 'incontinence', the effect of appetite or passion.24 In book 7 of the Ethics (EN 1145 b 25) he makes it the starting-point of his own discussion of the right use of these terms, and once again begins with a reference to the Protagoras, where the question was raised (at 352 b-c) whether knowledge, when it is present, can be 'hauled around like a slave by the passions'. 'Socrates', he continues, 'was totally opposed to this idea, on the ground that there is no such thing as incontinence: when a man acts contrary to what is best, he does not judge it to be so, but acts in ignorance.' So put, says Aristotle bluntly, the doctrine is in plain contradiction to experience; and most of us have to agree with Medea (as Euripides and Ovid depict her) that it is possible to see and approve the better course but follow the worse. Aristotle's own solution, cast in a form to deal most gently with the paradox, is reached through his more advanced technique of analysis. A crude dichotomy between knowledge and ignorance is not enough. Knowledge can be actual or potential (i.e. acquired but not consciously present, as in sleep or drunkenness), universal or particular. After considerable discussion (not relevant here), he concludes that the wrongdoer may know the universal rule, but this is not the efficient cause of a particular action, which is motivated by particular knowledge (i.e. that this present action, in my individual circumstances, is or is not contrary to the rule and therefore wrong). It is this kind of knowledge which is overcome (banished from consciousness, rendered merely potential) by the temptation of pleasure, fear, etc.; but such immediate awareness of particulars is a matter of sense-perception only, and ought not, according to Aristotle's epistemology, to be called knowledge.25 Thus by the application of Aristotelian distinctions of which Socrates never dreamed, something of his paradox can be saved: 'Because the last term (i.e. the particular) is not a universal nor equally an object of knowledge with the universal, even what Socrates sought to establish seems to come about; for there is no incontinence when knowledge in the full sense is present, nor is it that knowledge which is "hauled about" by passion, but perceptual knowledge.' (1147b 14.)

Plato contains many passages which support the interpretation of Socrates's dictum as over-intellectual and neglectful of moral weakness. When Aristotle says that in his view to understand the nature of justice was at the same time to be just, he was simply echoing the Gorgias, where this conclusion is drawn from an analogy with the practical arts: to 'learn justice' is to be just and will inevitably lead to just action (460b). In the Laches Socrates leads the search for a definition of courage, first to knowledge of what is or is not to be feared, and then to include the knowledge of all good and all evil things. This however would make courage identical with virtue as a whole, and Socrates ostensibly writes off the argument as a failure because they had begun by agreeing that it was only a part of it. In fact it has led to precisely what he believed to be the truth and endeavoured to demonstrate in the Protagoras. In the Meno (87c ff.) he argues that virtue is knowledge on the ground that it must be held to be something good, i.e. always beneficial, never harmful, and all other so-called good things in life (health, wealth, and even a so-called virtue like courage if it is a thoughtless boldness, divorced from knowledge) may bring harm as well as good unless they are wisely and prudently used. Here again the argument is artfully contrived to stimulate thought by being led to ostensible breakdown. If virtue is knowledge, it can be taught, but a search for possible teachers (including the Sophists, who are somewhat lightly dismissed as a doubtful case) reveals none, so the deductive argument is wrecked on the shores of experience. A final suggestion is made, that 'right opinion', which comes to a man not by teaching but in some mysterious manner comparable to the gift of prophecy, may be as good a guide to action as knowledge, so long as it is present; its only fault is its fickleness. Once again the conclusion is that they do not yet know 'what virtue is in and by itself, and are therefore in no position to say how it is acquired.

Xenophon too bears out the intellectualism of Socratic ethics: 'Socrates said that justice and all the rest of virtue was knowledge' (Mem. 3.9.5),26 and the same point is somewhat crudely developed in dialogue form at 4.6.6: no one who knows what he ought to do can think he ought not to do it, and no one acts otherwise than as he thinks he ought to act. In other places, however, Xenophon gives high praise not only to the continence of Socrates's own life but to his continual commendation, in his teaching, of the virtue of self-control—enkrateia, the opposite of that akrasia, or incontinence, which according to Aristotle was on his assumptions an impossibility.27 This brings up the question whether the 'paradox' in fact represents such a one-sided view of morality as Aristotle made out. To Joel the solution was simple (E. u. X S. 237): Aristotle, Plato's Protagoras, and Xenophon when he says Socrates believed virtue to be knowledge, are giving the genuine Socratic view; Xenophon when he makes Socrates preach self-control and condemn incontinence is giving his own. But it was scarcely as simple as that.

To start with Xenophon, his Socrates claims indeed that complete understanding of what is good will inevitably be reflected in action, but deplores akrasia, a yielding to the temptations of sensuality, greed or ambition, as the greatest obstacle to such understanding: 'Don't you agree that akrasia keeps men from wisdom (sophia) and drives them to its opposite? It prevents them from paying attention to, and properly learning, the things that are profitable by drawing them away to pleasures, and often so stuns their perception of good and evil28 that they choose the worse instead of the better' (Mem. 4.5.6). This leads, later in the same conversation (4.5.11), to the assertion that the man of uncontrolled passions is as ignorant and stupid as a beast, because only the self-controlled are in a position 'to investigate the most important things, and classifying them according to their kinds, both in discussion and in action to choose the good and reject the bad'. Here the notions of moral self-control and the acquisition of knowledge are brought together in a way which involves no contradiction.29 A teacher of mathematics would hardly be inconsistent in warning a weak-willed pupil that a life of drunkenness and debauchery is not conducive to success even in a purely intellectual pursuit. Some degree of moral discipline is a necessary prerequisite of all knowledge,30 but most of all when what is sought is an understanding of relative values, in which a mind dulled and confused by unthinking indulgence in sensual pleasure will be especially at sea. It must also be remembered that Socrates's constant analogy for virtue was not theoretical science but art or craft (techne), mastery of which calls for both knowledge and practice. At Mem. 3.9. 1-3 Xenophon claims to give his answer to the question whether courage is natural or can be learned. It remains on the level of Xenophon's comprehension—there is no progress towards the unification of virtue in a single knowledge of good and evil—but so far as it goes it agrees with Protagoras 350a (pp. 452f. above). Nature, says Socrates, plays a part, 'but courage is increased in every man's nature by learning and practice'. Soldiers will fight more bravely if they are using weapons and tactics in which they have been thoroughly trained rather than those with which they are unfamiliar. So too on a higher level in the Gorgias (509d ff.), no one wishes to do wrong, but unwillingness is not enough; one needs a certain power, an art, and only by learning and practising this techne will he avoid wrongdoing. In the acquisition of arete Socrates did not deny a place to any of the three factors commonly recognized in the fifth century: natural gifts, learning, and practice.31 Yet his view of the case was still original. Knowledge, in and by itself, of the nature of virtue was sufficient to make a man virtuous; but there was little chance of his learning the truth of it if he had not subjected his body to the negative discipline of resisting sensual indulgence and his mind to the practice of dialectic, the art of discriminating and defining.

Socrates's constant representation of arete, the art of good living, as the supreme art or craft, does then detract somewhat from Aristotle's criticism of him for treating it as if it were a theoretical science in which knowledge is the sole and final objective.32 Although in the productive and practical arts the purpose is fulfilled in the product and not solely in the knowledge or skill itself, there is something in the argument that a skilled carpenter or weaver will inevitably turn out good work; to reduce his handiwork deliberately to the faulty level of a beginner's would be impossible for him. At the same time, no one would claim that a simple analogy between this and moral action provides a complete, mature ethical theory. Socrates was the initiator of a revolution, and the first step in a philosophic revolution has two characteristics: it is so rooted in the traditions of its time that its full effects are only gradually realized,33 and it is presented in a simple and absolute form, leaving to future thinkers the job of providing the necessary qualifications and provisos. The tradition in which Socrates was caught up was that of the Sophists, and his teaching would have been impossible without theirs, much of which he accepted. They based their lives on the conviction that arete could be taught, and he concluded that therefore it must be knowledge. Like them he upheld, as we shall see, the principle of utility and was impressed by what they said about the relativity of the good. Antiphon emphasized the need to be master of one's passions as a precondition of choosing the better and avoiding the worse, nor was his advocacy of 'enlightened self-interest' without its appeal for Socrates. Much of this has emerged in ch. x, and more will appear later.

As for the sublime simplicity of Socrates's dictum, that certainly owed much to his own remarkable character. As Joel epigrammatically expressed it, 'in the strength of his character lay the weakness of his philosophy'.34 But it also reflects the pioneer character of his thought. His was the first attempt to apply philosophical method to ethics, and Aristotle showed perspicacity in giving generous recognition to the value of his achievement for the advance of logic, while deprecating its immediate and universal application to moral theory and practice. Socrates, it may be said, with his 'Virtue is knowledge', did for ethics what Parmenides did for ontology with the assertion that 'what is, is'. Both turned philosophy in an entirely new direction, and both left to their successors the task of refining a simple statement by examining and analysing the concepts underlying its terms, the use of which as single terms had hitherto concealed from consciousness a variety of meanings. Both stated as an absolute and universal truth something which needed to be said, which the advance of philosophy would never refute, but to which it would assign its due place as part of a larger whole.35 That is why it seemed worth mentioning Aristotle's refinements …, as an example of this process at work. 'Virtue is knowledge.' But what sort of knowledge? Actual, potential, universal, particular? And is knowledge the whole of virtue, or an essential integrating element in it?

If Socrates held virtue to be knowledge, whether or not he believed that either he or any man had acquired it, he must have had some conception of the object of that knowledge. Though a single object, it had two aspects. In one aspect it was knowledge of the end and aim of human life, which embraced and transcended all partial ends and individual arts such as those aiming at health, physical safety, wealth, political power and so on. These may or may not make for the best and happiest life, for they are all instrumental to further ends, and it depends how they are used. Secondly, the knowledge required is self-knowledge. We have seen that Socrates's conception of a definition is teleological …: to know the nature of anything is to know its function. If we could understand our own nature, therefore, we should know what is the right and natural goal of our life, and this is the knowledge which would give us the arete that we are seeking.

All Wrongdoing Is Involuntary: Socrates a Determinist?

If virtue is knowledge, and to know the good is to do it, wickedness is due to ignorance and therefore, strictly speaking, involuntary. This corollary made a deep impression on Plato, and in spite of his more advanced psychology he retained it as his own up to the end. If in his earlier works he attributes it to Socrates, he repeats it later in dialogues where Socrates is not even nominally the speaker. In the Timaeus the statement that 'no one is voluntarily wicked' is connected with a remarkable theory that all vices have their origin in somatic disorders, and in the Laws it is repeated on the more Socratic ground that no man will deliberately harm his most precious possession, which is his soul. In the Protagoras Socrates himself says: 'My own opinion is more or less this: no wise man believes that anyone sins willingly or willingly perpetrates any base or evil act; they know very well that every base or evil action is committed involuntarily.' In the Meno, an argument making a wickedly sophistical use of ambiguity is used to demonstrate that 'no one wishes evil', on the ground that 'to desire and obtain evil things' is a recipe for unhappiness, so that anyone who ostensibly wishes evil must be presumed to be ignorant that it is evil. The Republic asserts that, whether one considers pleasure, reputation or profit, the man who commends justice speaks the truth, while the man who disparages it (does not lie, but) speaks in ignorance. He must therefore be gently persuaded, for his error is not voluntary.36

Plato, then, maintained the paradox at all periods,37 but Aristotle opposed it on the grounds that it makes men no longer masters of their own actions. 'It is irrational to suppose that a man who acts unjustly does not wish to be unjust or a man who acts dissolutely to be dissolute.' 'Wickedness is voluntary, or else we shall have to quarrel with what we have just said and deny that a man is the author and begetter of his actions.'38 This criticism of the doctrine as deterministic is put most clearly in the Magna Moralia, and has been repeated in modern times. MM 1187a7 expresses it thus:

Socrates claimed that it is not in our power to be worthy or worthless men. If, he said, you were to ask anyone whether he would like to be just or unjust, no one would choose injustice, and it is the same with courage and cowardice and the other virtues. Evidently any who are vicious will not be vicious voluntarily. Neither, in conse-quence, will they be voluntarily virtuous.

Karl Joel was one who took this as a complete description of Socratic ethics, which he therefore regarded as primitively deterministic.

All wrong action is involuntary. Whether we are good or bad does not depend on ourselves. No one wills unrighteousness, cowardice etc., but only righteousness etc. (M M 1187a). On this basis it would be nonsensical to exhort to virtue. The will as such cannot be improved, because it is entirely unfree, in bondage to the reason. (E. u. X S. 266.)

That the beginning of psychology should be as primitive as the beginning of physical science (ibid. 227) is, as he says, natural enough; but what he is doing is to force this nascent psychology into the categories appropriate to a maturer stage. To say that if no one is voluntarily bad then no one is voluntarily good may seem an obvious inference, but it is nevertheless an inference drawn by Aristotle or his follower, not by Socrates.39 Not for him the searching analysis, which we find in Aristotle, of the interrelated concepts of desire, wish, deliberation, choice, voluntary and involuntary, nor of the status of an act committed involuntarily but arising out of a condition brought on by voluntary action in the past. What Socrates did, as Aristotle frankly acknowledges, was to initiate the whole discussion out of which such analysis sprang. To Socrates the matter appeared thus. No man with full knowledge of his own and his fellows' nature, and of the consequences of his acts, would make a wrong choice of action. But what man has such knowledge? Neither himself nor anyone known to him. His awareness of this laid on him the obligation to make it clear to others, and having convinced them both of their ignorance and of the paramount need of knowledge, to persuade them to shun those ways of life which were an impediment to discovery and accept the help of his maieutic powers. As Joel himself goes on to say, he did not seek to prove (better, to discover) that virtue is good—that was a truism—but what virtue is. And he urged others to do the same. This was an exhortation to acquire virtue, in the only way in which Socrates thought it could be acquired.

NOTE. One of the best short expositions of the essence of Socraticism is Ritter's on pp. 54-7 of his Sokrates, where he states and answers four objections to the doctrine that virtue is knowledge. The fourth is that such intellectual determinism destroys the point of moral precept and the recognition of any strict or absolute duty. The gist of his answer is worth repeating to supplement the one above. True, he says, a man in possession of full knowledge would have no duty in the sense of a command laid on him by a higher authority which he must recognize, and it would be superfluous to demand moral action from him. Where there is natural necessity there is no duty. But in Socrates's (and Plato's) belief, imperfect and limited humanity is incapable of such complete insight. Sophia is for God, only philosophia for men.40 Their search for wisdom is above all a search for self-knowledge. This cannot be taken for granted, but remains a duty, because the necessity of seeking knowledge is not always recognized, being in conflict with the urge towards pleasure and honour. It can only be maintained, in the face of many temptations, by an optimistic belief in its overriding value. Nevertheless the duty of self-examination may be felt so deeply that it sums up all duties in itself, and in content and importance does not fall below any of the fundamental moral demands that have ever been made or could be made.

The Good and the Useful

In Republic I (336c-d) Thrasymachus opens his attack by challenging Socrates to say what he means by justice or right conduct: 'And don't tell me that it is the hecessary or the beneficial or the helpful or the profitable or the advantageous, but speak plainly and precisely, for if you give me such nonsensical answers I won't stand it.' Socrates was famous for this utilitarian approach to goodness and virtue.41 At 339b he agrees that he believes justice to be something advantageous. In the Hippias Major he says: 'Let us postulate that whatever is useful is beautiful (or fine, kalon).'42 In the Gorgias (474d) all things fine—bodies, colours, shapes, sounds, habits or pursuits—are so called either in view of their usefulness for some specific purpose or because they give pleasure. In the Meno (87d-e) he argues that, if arete is what makes us good, it must be something advantageous or useful, since all good things are useful. Many things normally considered such—health,43 strength, wealth—may in certain circumstances lead to harm. What we have to find is something always, unfailingly advantageous. Sometimes goodness is coupled with pleasure as well as usefulness, as in the Protagoras (358b): 'All actions aimed at this end, namely a pleasant and painless life, must be fine actions, that is, good and beneficial. If then the pleasant is the good … 'The knowledge and wisdom necessary for a good life consist in acquiring an 'art of measurement' which will reveal the real, as opposed to the apparent, magnitude of pleasures. As with physical objects, they may deceive by appearing larger when close at hand, smaller when distant. If we are able to judge their actual measurements, we shall ensure not only a momentary, fleeting pleasure which may be followed by unhappiness, but the maximum of pleasure and minimum of pain throughout our lives. In the metric art, or hedonic calculus, lies salvation, since it 'cancels the effect of the immediate impression and by revealing the true state of affairs causes the soul to have peace and to abide in the truth, thus saving our life' (Prot. 356d-e).

The utilitarian conception of good is certainly Socratic. Xenophon makes him say, just before his identification of justice and the rest of virtue with knowledge (Mem. 3.9.4): 'All men, I believe, choose from the various courses open to them the one which they think will be most advantageous to them, and follow that.' An important consequence is that goodness is relative to a desired end. This is especially emphasized by Xenophon in two conversations, with Aristippus and Euthydemus.44 Aristippus was a hedonist in the vulgar sense of indulging excessively in food, drink and sex, and had already been rebuked by Socrates for his unwisdom. He hopes to get his own back by asking Socrates if he knows of anything good, and then, when Socrates gives any of the usual answers and names some one thing commonly thought to be good, showing that in certain circumstances it can be bad. Socrates however counters by asking whether he is to name something good for a fever, or for ophthalmia, or for hunger or what, 'because if you are asking me whether I know of something good which is not the good of anything, I neither know nor want to know'. Similarly with what is beautiful (kalon), Socrates knows plenty of beautiful things, all unlike one another. 'How can what is beautiful be unlike what is beautiful?' In the way that a beautiful (fine) wrestler is unlike a beautiful runner, a shield, beautiful for protection, differs from a javelin which is beautiful for its swift and powerful motion. The answer is the same for good and beautiful because what is good in relation to anything is beautiful in relation to the same thing. Arete is expressly mentioned as an example. The question whether in that case a dung-basket is beautiful leaves Socrates unperturbed. 'Of course, and a golden shield is ugly if the one is well made for its special work and the other badly.' Since everything has its own limited province of usefulness, everything may be said to be both good and bad, beautiful and ugly: what is good for hunger is often bad for fever, a build that is beautiful for wrestling is often ugly for running, 'for all things are good and beautiful in relation to the purposes for which they are well adapted'.

The conversation with Euthydemus follows the same lines. The good is nothing but the useful, and what is useful to one man may be hurtful to another. Beauty is similarly related to function. What is useful is beautiful in relation to that for which it is useful, and it is impossible to mention anything—body, utensil or whatever—which is beautiful for all purposes.

In these conversations Socrates is making exactly the same point that Protagoras makes in Plato's dialogue, that nothing is good or bad, beneficial or harmful, in abstracto, but only in relation to a particular object.… Similarly in the Phaedrus (p. 187, n. 3) he asks how anyone can call himself a doctor because he knows the effect of certain drugs and treatments, if he has no idea which of them is appropriate to a particular patient with a particular illness, at what stage they should be applied or for how long. Socrates did not scorn empiricism in the ordinary exigencies of life, he was as alive as any Sophist to the folly of imposing rigid rules indiscriminately, and one of the most indisputably Socratic tenets is that the goodness of anything lies in its fitness to perform its proper function. But once the importance of calculation is admitted, and hence the need for knowledge if pleasures are to be chosen with discrimination (and even a Callicles is forced to admit in the end that there are bad pleasures as well as good, because some are beneficial and others harmful, Gorg. 499b-d), Socrates is able to proceed, by apparently common-sense arguments, to stand common sense on its head. According to Xenophon (Mem. 4.8.6), when on trial for his life he could claim that no one had lived a better, or a pleasanter, more enjoyable life than he; for they live best who make the best effort to become as good as possible, and most pleasantly they who are most conscious that they are improving. Good (= useful or needful) things can obviously be arranged in a hierarchy: the right arms and equipment give soldiers the means to fight well; over and above this, the right strategy and tactics are needed if their fighting is to be effective; if this has brought victory, that only leaves further aims, and the means to them, undecided, for which a yet higher wisdom and knowledge are required. How is the former enemy to be treated, and how is the country to be so ordered that the fruits of victory are a peaceful, prosperous and happy life?45 Every art-strategy, medicine, politics and the rest—has its own particular aim, to which particular means are relative. This is 'the good' for it—victory, or health, or power over one's fellows. But at the end of each there is always a further aim. Victory may turn sour on the victors, restored health may mean only the continuation of an unhappy life, political power may be frustrating. 'Men think of the practically useful as that helping them to get what they want, but it is more useful to know what is worth wanting.'46 Thrasymachus and Clitophon were right to be annoyed when they asked in what consisted human excellence, righteousness or good conduct, and were put off with the answer that it was 'the useful'; for this was an answer without content. What is useful, what will further the ends of human life? The doctor as such, the general as such, know what they want to achieve—in the one case health, in the other victory—and this guides them in their choice of implements and means. But when it comes to the aim of human existence, the good life which the arete that we are seeking is to ensure, one cannot name any single, material thing. Any that could be mentioned might be misused, and (as Versenyi has pointed out, Socr. Hum. 76f.) would in any case be a particular instance incapable of universality. What is wanted is 'that quality, characteristic mark, or formal structure that all good things, no matter how relative, particular and materially different, must share if they are to be good at all'.

Socrates agreed with the Sophists that different specific, or subordinate, activities had their different ends or 'goods', calling for different means to acquire them. On the other hand he deplored the extreme, individualistic relativism which said that whatever any man thought right was right for him. The ends, and so the means, were objectively determined, and the expert would attain them while the ignorant would not. Hence his insistence on 'leading the discussion back to the definition'. To decide who is the better citizen, one must inquire what is the function of a good citizen.47 First he is considered in separate aspects: who is the good citizen in economic matters, in war, in debate and so forth? From these instances (as dozens of examples show) must be extracted the eidos common to them all, which would turn out to be knowledge—in this case knowledge of what a polis is and for what end it was constituted. Where Socrates went beyond the Sophists was in seeing the need for this formal definition. Yet he could never have satisfied a Thrasymachus, for seeing the need did not mean that he could fulfil it easily or quickly. Indeed he was only too well aware that the search was long and difficult, if not endless. It might take a lifetime, but it would be a lifetime well spent, for 'the unexamined life is not the life for a human being' (Apol. 38a). He laid no claim to the knowledge which was virtue, but only a certain insight into the right way to look for it. The clue lay in the close connexion between essence and function, between what a thing is and what it is for. One cannot know what a shuttle is without understanding the work of the weaver and what he is trying to make. To know what a cook or a doctor or a general is is to know his job, and leads to a knowledge of the particular arete which will enable him to perform it. If therefore we want to learn what is arete as such, the supreme or universal excellence which will enable us all, whatever our craft, profession or standing, to live the span of human life in the best possible way, we must first know ourselves, for with that self-knowledge will come the knowledge of our chief end. Pursued to this extreme, the doctrine which started out as utilitarian and even selfish may end in such an apparently unpractical conclusion as that it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it, and having done a wrong, better to be punished for it than to escape. For the real self, which is to be 'benefited', turns out to be the psyche, and this is only harmed by the commission of wrongful acts, and improved by chastisement.48

Self-Knowledge and 'Care of the Soul'

One of Socrates's most insistent exhortations to his fellow-citizens was that they should look after—care for, tend—their souls… In the Apology he says (29d):

I will not cease from philosophy and from exhorting you, and declaring the truth to every one of you I meet, saying in the words I am accustomed to use: 'My good friend … are you not ashamed of caring for money and how to get as much of it as you can, and for honour and reputation, and not caring or taking thought for wisdom and truth and for your psyche, and how to make it as good as possible?'

And at 30a:

I go about doing nothing else but urging you, young and old alike, not to care for your bodies or for money sooner than, or as much as, for your psyche, and how to make it as good as you can.

The original word psyche avoids the overtones which the English translation 'soul' has acquired through centuries of use in a Christian context. As Socrates understood it, the effort that he demanded of his fellows was philosophic and intellectual rather than religious, though the psyche did not lack religious associations in and before his time. Burnet went so far as to say that 'not only had the word psyche never been used in this way, but the existence of what Socrates called by that name had never been realized'.49 To make good this statement called for an inquiry into the history of the word which he proceeded to make, as others have also done. By the fifth century it had certainly acquired remarkably complex associations. There was still the Homeric conception of it as the breath-soul which was a worthless thing without the body and had no connexion with thought or emotion. There was the primitive ghost-psyche which could be summoned back to prophesy and to help or take vengeance on the living. There was the psyche of the mystery-religions, akin to the divine and capable of a blessed life after death if the necessary rites or practices had been observed, with the addition, among the Pythagoreans, of the pursuit of philosophia. Psyche could mean courage, and 'of a good psyche' … brave, or it could mean bare life, so that 'to love one's psyche' was to cling to life in a cowardly way,50 and swooning was a temporary loss of psyche.… Both in the Orphic and in the lonian-scientific tradition this life-substance was a portion of the surrounding air or aither enclosed in a body, and would fly off to rejoin it at death. This, though material, was the divine element and seems to have been associated with the power of thought, as the psyche also is in Sophocles when Creon says that only power reveals the psyche, thought and mind of a man (Ant. 175-7). Here it verges on character, and it is used in moral contexts also. Pindar speaks of 'keeping one's psyche from unrighteousness',51 and Sophocles of 'a well-disposed psyche with righteous thoughts'.52 The law of homicide demanded forfeiture of 'the psyche which did or planned the deed', combining the senses of life and the power of thought and deliberation.53 When Aristophanes calls the school of Socrates 'a home of clever psychai', this may of course be a satirical allusion to his own use of the word (Clouds, 94).

These examples, many of them taken from Burnet's own collection, may make us hesitate to go the whole way with him in his belief that no one before Socrates had ever said 'that there is something in us which is capable of attaining wisdom, that this same thing is capable of attaining goodness and righteousness, and that it was called "soul".… More to the point is his observation (p. 158) that we do not dispose of Socrates's claim to originality by observing that his conception of the soul was reached by combining certain features of existing beliefs: 'the power of transfusing the apparently disparate is exactly what is meant by originality'. Nor does Burnet even mention what is perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Socratic doctrine, namely the description of the relationship of soul to body in terms of the craftsman analogy: soul is to body as the user to the used, the workman to his tool.

In brief, what Socrates thought about the human psyche was that it was the true self. The living man is the psyche, and the body (which for the Homeric heroes and those still brought up on Homer took such decided preference over it) is only the set of tools or instruments of which he makes use in order to live. A craftsman can only do good work if he is in command of his tools and can guide them as he wishes, an accomplishment which demands knowledge and practice. Similarly life can only be lived well if the psyche is in command of … the body.54 It meant purely and simply the intelligence,55 which in a properly ordered life is in complete control of the senses and emotions. Its proper virtue is wisdom … and thought …, and to improve the psyche is to take thought for wisdom … and truth (Apol. 29d …). This identification of the psyche with the self and the self with the reason might be said to have roots both in lonian scientific thought and in Pythagoreanism, yet there was certainly novelty in Socrates's development of it,56 apart from the fact that the ordinary Athenian, whom he particularly wished to persuade, was not in the habit of letting his life be ruled by either of these influences. The arguments leading to this conception of the soul have the familiar Socratic ring, and make clear its intimate connexion with his other fundamental conception, that of knowledge, and in particular self-knowledge, as the prerequisite of the good life. They are best set forth in the First Alcibiades, a dialogue which, whether or not Plato wrote it, was aptly described by Burnet as 'designed as a sort of introduction to Socratic philosophy for beginners'.57

Alcibiades, still under twenty, has ambitions to be a leader of men, both in politics and war. He ought then to have some understanding of such concepts as right and wrong, expedient and inexpedient. Socrates first gets him to contradict himself on these subjects, thus proving that he did not know their meaning although he thought he did. He next points out that it is not ignorance that matters, but ignorance that you are ignorant. Alcibiades does not know how to fly any more than he knows how to govern justly or for the good of the Athenians, but since he is aware of his ignorance he will not try, and no harm will be done. Again (a favourite illustration), there is no harm in his knowing nothing of seamanship if he is content to be a passenger and leave the steering to the skilled helmsman, but there may be disaster if he thinks himself capable of taking over the helm.

Socrates next gets Alcibiades to agree that for success in life it is necessary to care for, or take pains over, oneself…, to improve and train oneself, and goes on to demonstrate that you cannot tend and improve a thing unless you know its nature. As always, he is trying to 'lead the discussion back to a definition'.… 'Knowing how' for Socrates must be preceded by 'knowing what', a lesson that the Sophists had failed to learn. First he draws a distinction between tending a thing itself and tending something that belongs to it. These are generally the subjects of different skills. To tend the foot is the job of the trainer (or doctor or chiropodist); to tend what belongs to the foot—i.e. shoes—belongs to the cobbler. Now such things as wealth and reputation are not ourselves but things belonging to us, and therefore to augment these externals—which many regard as a proper aim in life—is not to look after ourselves at all, and the art of tending ourselves is a different one. What is this art? Well, can anyone make a good shoe or mend one if he does not know what a shoe is and what it is intended to do? No. One must understand the nature and purpose of anything before one can make, mend or look after it properly. So in life, we cannot acquire an art of self-improvement unless we first understand what we ourselves are. Our first duty, therefore, is to obey the Delphic command, 'Know thyself', 'for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves, but otherwise we never shall'.58

How do we come by this knowledge of our real selves? It is reached by means of a further distinction, between the user of anything and what he uses. Alcibiades is first made to admit that the two are always distinct: he and Socrates are people, conversing by means of logoi, and the logoi they use are different from themselves. A shoemaker is distinct from his knife and awl, a musician from his instrument. But we can go further. A shoemaker, we say, or any other craftsman, uses not only his tools but also his hands and eyes. We may generalize this and say that the body as a whole is something which a man uses to carry out his purposes, his legs to take him where he wants to go, and so on. And if we agree that such a statement is meaningful, we must agree that in speaking of a man we mean something different from his body—that, in fact, which makes use of the body as its instrument. There is nothing that this can be except the psyche, which uses and controls … the body.59 Therefore he who said 'know thyself was in fact bidding us know OUR psyche (130e). Going back to the earlier distinction, to know the body is to know something that belongs to oneself, as a shoe to a foot, but not one's real self; and likewise to look after the body is not to look after one's real self. To know oneself is at once an intellectual and a moral insight, for it is to know that the psyche, not the body, is intended by nature or God (cf. 124c) to be the ruling element: to know oneself is to be self-controlled (sophron, 131b, and 133c). This may throw some further light on our earlier. discussions of Socratic intellectualism… It is at this point, too, that Socrates makes use of the argument to oppose the prevailing sexual standards: he himself may be correctly described as a lover of Alcibiades, because he loves his psyche; those who love his body love not Alcibiades, but only something belonging to him.…

All of this is familiar Socratic doctrine, the elements of which can be found repeated many times in the Socratic writings, but are so presented here as to bring out their interrelations in a single continuous argument. We are not surprised therefore when, after establishing that to know ourselves is to know the psyche and not the body, he goes on to say that if we want to know what the psyche is, we must look 'particularly at that part of it in which its virtue resides', and adds at once that this virtue of the psyche is wisdom (sophia). To know what something is is to know what it is for, and we have already discovered that this ergon or function of the soul is to rule, govern or control. That virtue is knowledge is true right through the scale of human occupations. The virtue of a shoemaker is knowledge, of what shoes are for and how to make them; the virtue of a doctor is knowledge, of the body and how to tend it. And the virtue of a complete man both as an individual and as a social being is knowledge of the moral and statesmanlike virtues—justice, courage and the rest—which all ambitious Athenian politicians carelessly claimed to understand, but of the nature of which it was Socrates's painful duty to point out that they (and himself no less) were so far ignorant.60 Here we have the whole train of thought that lay behind the exhortation in the Apology to care for the psyche and for wisdom and truth, rather than for money or reputation, which it would have been inappropriate, or rather impossible, to unfold in a speech before the judges at his trial.

Religious Beliefs of Socrates: Is the Soul Immortal?

The next point made in the Alcibiades comes rather unexpectedly to a modern reader, but is introduced by Socrates without preamble: 'Can we mention', he asks (133c), 'anything more divine about the soul than what is concerned with knowledge and thought? Then this aspect of it61 resembles God, and it is by looking toward that and understanding all that is divine—God and wisdom—that a man will most fully know himself.' God, he goes on, reflects the nature of psyche more clearly and brightly than anything in our own souls, and we may therefore use him as a mirror for human nature too, if what we are looking for is the arete of the soul, and this is the best way to see and understand ourselves.62 With this passage in mind, Jowett's editors (1. 601 n. 1) say that in the Alcibiades 'the religious spirit is more positive than in Plato's earlier dialogues', and give this as a reason for supposing it a later and possibly spurious work. But the religious references in the Apology are equally positive, and the conception of a divine mind as a universal and purer counterpart of our own was common in the fifth century and is attributed to Socrates by Xenophon. In Plato's Apology Socrates says that it would be wrong to disobey God's commands through fear of death (28e), and that, fond as he is of the Athenians, he will obey God rather than them (29d), that God has sent him to the city for its good (30d-e), and that the fortunes of the good are not neglected by the gods (41d). He claims that it is 'not permitted … 'for a better man to be harmed by a worse (30d), and the forbidding agent is clearly not human but divine. Both Apology and Euthyphro mention his serious acceptance of the 'divine sign', which he regarded as a voice from God. How far one is justified in translating ho theos simply as 'God' is a difficult question. At 29d Socrates presumably has chiefly in mind Apollo and his oracle, and at 41d he speaks of 'the gods' in the plural. Yet in some cases he seems to have advanced beyond the popular theology to the notion of a single divine power, for which 'God' is the least misleading modern equivalent. In any case it cannot be said that the religious language of the Apology is less 'positive' than that of the Alcibiades, and we certainly have no right to say that it is used in a different spirit.

Closest to the thought of the Alcibiades about God and the soul is the passage in Xenophon (Mem. 1.4.17) where Socrates says to Aristodemus: 'Just consider that your own mind within you controls your body as it will. So you must believe that the wisdom in the whole universe disposes all things according to its pleasure.' This supreme being appears at 4.3.13, in contrast to 'the other gods', as 'he who coordinates and holds together the whole cosmos', and a little further on in the same chapter the psyche of man is described as that which 'more than anything else that is human partakes of the divine'. The resemblance of the language here to that reported of Anaximenes, who compared the universal breath or air to the human soul, which is also air, and holds us together (vol. 1, 131), reminds us how old is this connexion between human and universal soul. The intellectual character of the universal soul as divine mind, and its creative role, were emphasized in Socrates's own lifetime by Anaxagoras and Diogenes of Apollonia, and considering its possibilities for spititualization it is not surprising that he should have taken over the belief and adapted it to his own teaching. At 1.4.8 he claims it is absurd that wisdom should 'by some lucky chance' reside in the tiny portions of matter which form our bodies, and yet 'all the huge and infinitely numerous bodies' in the universe should have achieved the regularity and order which they display without any thought at all.63 His criticism of Anaxagoras was not that he made Mind the moving force behind the whole universe, but that having done so, he ignored it, and explained the cosmic phenomena by mechanical causes which seemed to have no relation whatsoever to intelligence.

The mentions of a god who is the supreme wisdom in the world, as our minds are in us, are associated with an insistence on his loving care for mankind. At 1.4.5 this being is 'he who created man from the beginning', and Socrates points out in detail how our own parts are designed to serve our ends, and at 4.3.10 how the lower animals too exist for the sake of man. God cares for men (as also in Plato's Apology, 41d), takes thought for them, loves them, assists them, as well as being their creator.64 All this excludes the supposition that Socrates merely shared the vague pantheism of contemporary intellectuals. He uses 'God' or 'the gods' indifferently, but with a bias towards the former, and we have seen mention of a supreme governor of the universe contrasted with lesser gods. In so far as he genuinely believed in the gods of popular polytheism (and Xenophon was emphatic in defending him against charges of neglecting their cult), he probably thought of them as different manifestations of the one supreme spirit. This was the position of many thinking men, and an apparently indifferent use of 'the god', 'the gods' and 'the divine' (neuter) is characteristic of the age. 'If you make trial of the gods by serving them', says Xenophon's Socrates (Mem. 1.4.18), 'and see whether they will give you counsel in the things which are hidden from men, you will discover that the divine is such, and so great, that at one and the same time it sees and hears everything and is everywhere and takes care of everything.' The words 'in the things hidden from men' are a reminder that Socrates deprecated resort to oracles as a substitute for thought. In matters where the gods have given men the power to judge for themselves, they emphatically ought to take the trouble to learn what is necessary and make up their own minds: to trouble the gods about such things is contrary to true religion.… To sum up, Socrates believed in a god who was the supreme Mind, responsible for the ordering of the universe and at the same time the creator of men. Men moreover had a special relation with him in that their own minds, which controlled their bodies as God controlled the physical movements of the universe, were, though less perfect than the mind of God, of the same nature, and worked on the same principles. In fact, if one looked only to the arete of the human soul and disregarded its shortcomings, the two were identical. Whether or not because of this relationship, God had a special regard for man, and had designed both man's own body and the rest of nature for his benefit.

These religious views are amply attested for Socrates, and they create a presumption that he believed the soul to persist after death in a manner more satisfying than the shadowy and witless existence of the Homeric dead; but in deference to many scholars who have thought him to be agnostic on this point, it must be looked at further. To call the soul, or mind, the divine part of man does not by itself imply personal, individual survival. The hope of the mystic was to lose his individuality by being caught up into the one all-pervading spirit, and this absorption was probably the expectation of all, mystics or natural philosophers, who believed in the airy (and ultimately aetherial) nature of the psyche and in the aither as a living and 'governing' element in the universe. For believers in transmigration like the Orphics and Pythagoreans, individual survival, carrying with it rewards and punishments for the kind of life lived on earth, was the fate only of those who were still caught in the wheel and destined for reincarnation. The final goal was again reabsorption.65 In one form or another—through the mysteries, the philosophers, and superstitions of a primitive antiquity—this belief would be fairly widespread in the fifth century, and is probably behind Euripides's lines about the mind of the dead 'plunging immortal into the immortal aither' (Hel. 1014ff.).

That is one reason for caution in using the reference in the Alcibiades to the soul as divine as evidence that Socrates believed in personal immortality. Another is the doubt expressed by some scholars concerning the date of the dialogue. Even if intended as 'an introduction to Socratic philosophy' it might, if not written before the middle of the fourth century, include in all innocence something that was not Socratic. For the closest parallel to its statement of the divinity of the human reason, put briefly and soberly with none of the language about initiation, rebirth and so on which Plato adopted from the mystery-religions, we have to look to Aristotle. In the tenth book of the Ethics he argues that the best and highest form of human life would consist in the uninterrupted exercise of the reason; 'but', he goes on (1177b27), 'it is not by virtue of our humanity that we can live this life, but in so far as there is something of the divine in us'. A little later on, in exact agreement with the Alcibiades, he says that nevertheless this divine faculty of reason is above all others a man's true self (1778a7). If the Alcibiades was written, as some think, about the time of Plato's death and Aristotle's maturity, the addition might be very natural. It might indeed be supposed (as Plato did suppose) that the soul's independence of the body, and hence its immortality, were the natural consequence of the sharp dualism of soul and body that is maintained in the main part of the dialogue, the thoroughly Socratic argument that the body is not the real man but only an instrument of which the man (that is, the psyche) makes use. But we cannot yet say for certain that Socrates drew that conclusion.

It is safer to turn first to the Apology, the most certainly Socratic of all Plato's works.66 There Socrates says in several places what he thinks about death. On no other subject is it truer to say that everyone has his own Socrates. Some read into these passages agnosticism, others religious faith in a future life. First of all the text must speak for itself. At 28e he says it would be shameful if, after facing death in battle at the command of the state, he should now through fear of death disobey the god's command to philosophize by examining himself and others.

To fear death is only an instance of thinking oneself wise when one is not; for it is to think one knows what one does not know. No one in fact knows whether death may not even be the greatest of all good things for man, yet men fear it as if they knew well that it was the greatest evil … This perhaps is the point in which I am different from the rest of men, and if I could make any claim to be wiser than another, it is in this, that just as I have no full knowledge about the things in Hades, so also I am aware of my ignorance. This however I do know, that it is both evil and base to do wrong and disobey a better, be he god or man. Therefore I shall never fear nor run away from something which for all I know may be good, but rather from evils which I know to be evils.

After the death-sentence Socrates addresses a few words to those who had voted for his acquittal. First he tells them of the silence of his divine sign or voice (p. 403 above), which means that 'what has happened to me must be something good, and those of us who think death is an evil cannot be right'. He continues (40c):

Looking at it another way we may also feel a strong hope that it is good. Death is one of two things. Either the dead man is as if he no longer exists, and has no sensations at all; or else as men say it is a change and migration of the soul from here to another place. If we have no sensation, but death is like a sleep in which the sleeper has not even a dream, then it must be a wonderful boon; for if a man had to pick out the night in which he slept so soundly that he did not even dream, and setting beside it the other nights and days of his life, to compare them with that night and say how many better and pleasanter days and nights he had spent, I truly believe that not only an ordinary man but even the Great King himself would find them easy to count. If then that is death, I counlt it a gain, for in this way the whole of time will seem no more than a single night.

If on the other hand death is a sort of migration to another place, and the common tales are true that all the dead are there, what finer thing could there be than this? Would it not be a good journey that takes one to Hades, away from these self-styled judges here, to find the true judges who are said to dispense justice there—Minos, Rhadamanthys, Aeacus, Triptolemus and other demigods who were just in their own lives? Or what would not one of you give to meet Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer? I myself would have a wonderful time there, with Palamedes and Ajax son of Telamon and any other of the ancients who had met his death as the result of an unjust verdict, comparing my experiences with theirs. There would be some pleasure in that. Best of all, I could examine and interrogate the inhabitants of Hades as I do the people here, to find out which of them is wise, and which thinks he is though he is not. What would not a man give to question the leader of the great army at Troy, or Odysseus or Sisyphus or thousands more whom one might mention, both men and women? It would be an infinite happiness to consort and converse with them and examine them—and at any rate they don't put people to death for it there! For among the advantages which those in Hades have over us is the fact that they are immortal for the rest of time, if what we are told is true.

And you too, my friends, must face death with good hope, convinced of the truth of this one thing, that no evil can happen to a good man either in life or in death, nor are his fortunes neglected by the gods.

Then there is the final sentence of the whole Apology:

Now the time is up and we must go, I to death and you to life; but which of us is going to the better fate is known to none, except it be to God.

It is only by reading such passages as this at length that one can catch something of the flavour of the man, which was at least as much of an influence on his friends and posterity as any positive doctrine that he had to teach. Indeed, as these same passages show, with such a naturally undogmatic person it is not always easy to say what he did teach, and the majority who like and admire him tend to see in his language whatever they themselves believe. The agnostic greets him as a kindred spirit because he has said that to claim knowledge of what happens after death is to claim to know what one does not know: he states possible alternatives and leaves them open. The religious-minded is impressed by the fact that whenever he mentions death it is to say that it is something good. In this speech, it is true, he entertains the possibility that it may be either a new life, in which one will meet the great men of the past, or a dreamless sleep, and professes to see good in both. But one would not expect him to assert his innermost convictions in a public speech, in which indeed he treats the matter with a certain amount of humour, as when he imagines himself carrying on in the next world the inquisitorial activities which had made him so unpopular in this. One may feel with Taylor that 'it requires a singularly dull and tasteless reader not to see that his own sympathies are with the hope of a blessed immortality' (VS, 31). Hints of his own belief appear rather in statements like 'the fortunes of a good man are not neglected by the gods'. The man who believed that the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, it may be said, is unlikely to have believed that death means utter extinction. The nature of death, he concludes, is unknown except it be to God; and that exception, one might argue, makes all the difference.

My own reading of the Apology inclines me to this second interpretation, but there is too much to be said on both sides for the question to be resolved on the basis of these passages alone. They must be taken with other considerations. It would be unusual, to put it no higher, for anyone with Socrates's views both about man as the supreme object of the care and solicitude of God, for whose sake the rest of creation exists. … and about the nature and importance of the human soul, to hold at the same time that physical death was the end and the soul perished with the body. A belief in the independence of the soul, and its indifference to the fate of the body, goes naturally with that sharp distinction between them which we find drawn not only in the Alcibiades but in the Apology and elsewhere in the more indubitably Socratic parts of Plato. Always for Socrates they were two different things, with the psyche (that is, the. rational faculty) superior and the body only its sometimes refractory instrument. Hence the supreme importance of 'tendance of the psyche' (i.e. the training of the mind), and although Socrates saw this as issuing primarily in the living of a practically good life on earth, he most probably thought that just as it was of an altogether superior nature to the body, so also it outlived it.

Of course if one took the Phaedo as a mere continuation of the Apology, relating what Socrates said to his intimate friends on the day of his death with as much fidelity as the Apology employs in telling what he said before the five hundred judges at his trial, there would be no question about it; for there Socrates does maintain that the psyche not only is distinct from, and superior to, the body, but differs from it as the eternal from the temporal. It would, however, be here too a 'dull and tasteless reader' who did not sense the entirely different character of the two works, the intellectual modesty of the one and the human simplicity of its alternatives—either a dreamless sleep or a new life much like this one—and the elaborate combination in the other of mystical language about reincarnation with metaphysical argument about the soul's relation to the eternal Forms. As to this, I have already expressed the view … that if Socrates had not felt confident of personal immortality, it would have been impossible for Plato to have written an account of his last conversation and death, however imaginative in its details, of which the whole purpose was to instil such confidence. In marked contrast to the Apology, he tells us that he himself was not present, and he has felt free to support the simple, unproved faith of his friend with the kind of arguments that appealed to his more speculative nature. Even so, there are many touches of the well-remembered Socrates, not only in the perfect calm and steadfastness with which he goes to meet his death.

Surely Socratic is the 'quiet laugh' with which he replies to Crito's request as to how they should bury him: 'Any way you please, provided you can catch me', with the explanation that the dead body which they will shortly see is something quite different from Socrates, the person now talking to them. The Apology, though innocent of any theories of reincarnation, speaks of death as a 'change of abode for the soul from here to another place' and 'like going to another country', and this language is exactly paralleled in the Phaedo.67 In the Phaedo also Socrates repeats his hope of meeting among the dead with better men than those now living (63b). Even the Socratic profession of ignorance and posing of alternatives is not forgotten there (91b): 'If what I say is true, it is indeed well to believe it; but if there is nothing for a man when he has died, at least I shall be less troublesome to the company than if I were bemoaning my fate.' That however was before the final arguments, after which the Platonic Socrates takes over, and when he has described a possible course of events for the soul both in and out of the body, claims that even if one cannot be positive on such a matter, yet something like it must be true 'because the soul has been clearly shown to be … immortal' (114d). Plato thinks he has proved what Socrates only believed, the fact of the soul's immortality, but when it comes to the details of its fate he remembers again how the undogmatic Socrates, the knower of his own ignorance, used to speak. Something like his mythos must be true, 'for it is fitting, and it is worth taking a chance on believing that it is so—the risk is a good one—and one should repeat such things to oneself like a charm, which is why I have spun out the story at such length'. The reason, as always with Socrates, is practical: belief in the scheme of transmigration which he has outlined, with promotion to better lives for the good and vice versa, will encourage a man to think little of bodily pleasures, to pursue knowledge and 'deck the psyche with her proper adornments, self-control, justice, courage, freedom and truth' (114d-e).

The Phaedo is a dialogue inspired by Socrates, but in certain important ways going beyond him. To claim to separate the Socratic from the Platonic will seem to many presumptuous, but one can only follow one's own best judgment and leave the verdict to others. I have already given a character sketch of Socrates based on what seemed the most trustworthy evidence, and it is to this impression of his personality as a whole that we must turn for the answer to a question like this,68 He seems to have been a man who, as Aristotle said, applied the whole of his remarkable intellectual powers to the solution of questions of practical conduct. In higher matters I would suggest that he was guided by a simple religious faith. Certain problems were in principle soluble by human effort. To trouble the gods with these was lazy and stupid. But there would always be truths beyond the scope of human explanation, and for these one must trust the word of the gods, whether given by oracles or through other channels.69 There was no irony in the way he talked of his divine sign: he put himself unreservedly in the hands of what he sincerely believed to be an inspiration from heaven. He possessed the religious virtue of humility (which in others also has sometimes been taken for arrogance), and with it, despite his ceaseless questioning of everything in the human sphere, of unquestioning belief. There is nothing impossible or unprecedented in the union of a keen and penetrating insight in human affairs, and an unerring eye for humbug, with a simple religious piety. He cannot have laid such emphasis on the 'care' of the psyche as the real man, without believing that as it was both truly human and had some share in the divine nature, so also it was the lasting part of us, and that the treatment accorded it in this life would affect its nature and fortunes in the next (Phaedo, 63c). The difference between him and Plato is that whereas he was content to believe in immortality as the humbler and less theologically minded Christian does, as an article of simple faith, Plato felt the need to support it with arguments which might at least strengthen the fearful, if not convert the unbelieving. He sought to promote the immortality of the soul from religious belief to philosophical doctrine.

This however involves in the end an essential change of attitude. Once focus attention on the psyche to the extent necessary for a proof of its immortality, and one is inevitably, if insensibly, led to the attitude which Plato adopts in the Phaedo, of contempt for this life and a fixation on the other. Life becomes something that the philosopher will long to escape from, and while it lasts, he will regard it as practice, or training, for death; that is to say, as death is the release of soul from body, so he will hold the body in contempt. … and keep the soul as pure from the taint of its senses and desires as is possible in this life.70 One becomes immersed in Orphic and Pythagorean notions of the body as a tomb or prison for the soul, and this life as a kind of purgatory, from which the philosopher's eyes should be averted to gaze on the bliss of the world beyond. This attitude of Plato's I would venture to call essentially un-Socratic. One remark in Burnet's essay on the Socratic doctrine of the soul is profoundly true, but difficult to reconcile with his fixed idea that the Phaedo contains nothing but pure Socratic doctrine. 'It does not seem, then', he wrote, 'that this [belief in immortality] formed the ordinary theme of his discourse. What he did preach as the one thing needful for the soul was that it should strive after wisdom and goodness' (p. 159). These twin goals must be brought back to their Greek originals: sophia, the knowledge and skill essential for all good craftsmanship, from shoemaking to moral and political science; and aretè, the excellence which meant being good at something, in this case living to the utmost of one's powers. Socrates saw his proper place not 'practising for death' in philosophic retirement (however Callicles might sneer), but thrashing out practical questions with the political and rhetorical teachers of Athens in her hey-day, as well as instilling a proper sense of values into his younger friends in gymnasium or palaestra.

The Legacy of Socrates

Even systematic philosophers, whose ideas are perpetuated in voluminous writings, have been differently understood by their followers. This was even more certain to happen with Socrates, who taught by word of mouth and insisted that his only advantage over others was the knowledge of his own ignorance. His service to philosophy was the same as that which he claimed to have performed for the Athenian people, namely to be a gadfly which provoked and stung them into fresh activity. Much of his influence was due not to anything that he said at all, but to the magnetic effect of his personality and the example of his life and death, to the consistency and integrity with which he followed his own conscience rather than adopting any belief or legal enactment simply because it was accepted or enjoined, while unquestioningly admitting the right of the state, to which he owed parents, education, and lifelong protection, to deal with him as it thought fit if he could not persuade it otherwise. Inevitably, therefore, in the years following his death, the most diverse philosophers and schools could claim to be following in his footsteps though some at least of them may appear to us to be highly un-Socratic in their conclusions. Here was an inspiring talker, of outstanding intellect and, for his time at least, a unique power of logical discrimination, who was prepared to devote all his time to an examination of human conduct, in the conviction that life was not a meaningless chaos or the heartless jest of an unfeeling higher power but had a definite direction and purpose. Nothing therefore was more important for himself or for others than to ask themselves continually what was the good for man and what the peculiarly human aretè or excellence which would enable him to attain that good. But it is essential to remember that, as we have seen already, Socrates himself never claimed to have the answer to these questions. He wished to counter those Sophists and others who saw the best life as one of self-indulgence or tyrannical power, those whom Plato's Callicles represents when he identifies the good with pleasure. It must be true, for instance, to say that the orator who pleases the demos may do them much harm, and that the one who aims at their good may have to say some very unpalatable things; and though pleasure in itself may be a good thing, such statements as these would be impossible if pleasure and good were identical. How was he to show that such Sophists were wrong?

To a large extent he tried to do it by meeting them on their own ground. Granted that self-interest is paramount, and our object is to maximize our own enjoyment, success demands that it be enlightened self-interest. Unreflecting pursuit of the pleasure of the moment may lead to future misery. This is the thin end of the Socratic wedge. Everyone admitted it, but it follows that actions pleasant in themselves may lead to great harm, even if the meaning of harm is still restricted to what is painful. Hence pleasure cannot be itself the end of life. If we want a word to be the equivalent of 'good' … and explain it, we must try another. Socrates himself suggested 'useful' or 'beneficial'. The good must be something which always benefits, never harms. Acts which in themselves give pleasure may now be referred to this as a higher standard. We may ask, still maintaining our attitude of pure self-interest, 'Will it be for my ultimate benefit to act thus?' Having got as far as this, it was easy for him to show that we cannot live the best life without knowledge or wisdom. We have seen how this is necessary to acquire the 'art of measurement' whereby we can calculate the course of action which will in the long term give us the maximum of pleasure and the minimum of pain. In the Protagoras, where to the dismay of some of his admirers he apparently champions the cause of pleasure as the good, he gets Protagoras first to agree that the pleasure on which we base our calculations must be in the future as well as the present, and finally to include under 'pleasure' everything that in other dialogues (e.g. Meno) he describes as 'beneficial'. All this is carefully excluded when in the Gorgias he argues against the equivalence of pleasure with the good. 'Pleasures' in the Protagoras include most of what in modern speech comes under the heading of 'values', with at least as much emphasis on spiritual values as on any others.

So it turned out that on a nominally hard-headed and even individualistically utilitarian basis one can, with Socrates for a guide, achieve at least as high and altruistic a code of morals as most people are ever likely to aspire to. It was not, as we know, the sum total of his teaching, which included the belief that the real self is the rational and moral psyche, and that therefore the true meaning of 'benefiting oneself was benefiting one's psyche, which could only be harmed by a life of unpunished wrongdoing. I would add myself that in calculating the future benefit or harm likely to accrue from a course of action, he would include the treatment of the soul by the divine power in a future life. All this was an inspiration to his followers, but not a sufficient answer to moral sceptics, because it left open the question of what was in fact the ultimate end and purpose of human life. Advocacy of 'the beneficial' as the criterion of action leaves undecided the nature of the benefit which the doer hopes to receive. Socrates, the reverse of a hedonist by nature, had used the hedonistic argument, pressed to a logical conclusion, to turn the tables on the hedonists themselves, but this expedient had its limitations. It left open the question: 'Beneficial for what?' A man might still take even physical pleasure as his ultimate aim, provided he proceeded with just enough caution to ensure that the pleasures of the day did not interfere with those of the morrow. Or he might choose power. The attainment of this may well necessitate, as the biography of some dictators shows, a curtailment of pleasures in the ordinary sense, even a life of strict personal asceticism. The hedonic calculus provides no answer to this, and if Socrates says, 'But you are ignoring the effect on your psyche and what will happen to it after death', communication breaks down, as Plato showed in the Gorgias; for what he relies on is simply not believed by the adversary, nor is there any means of convincing him of what is to some extent an act of faith. (Cf. Theaet. 177 a.)

In one way, then, the aim of Socrates's immediate followers and their schools was to give content to the 'good' which he had set them to seek but himself left undetermined. On the side of method, he bequeathed to them the negative virtues of elenchus or refutation, the dispeller of false pretensions to knowledge, and a sense of the supreme importance of agreeing upon the meaning of words, working towards definitions by means of dialectic or discussion. His insistence on definitions was noted by such widely different characters as Plato and Xenophon, and could lead, according to temperament, to a form of linguistic philosophy on the one hand and, on the other, to philosophic realism when Plato hypostatized the objects of definition and gave them independent existence.71 Similarly his dialectical and elenctic skill could either be used constructively or lose itself in a somewhat barren eristic. In the eyes of Grote, Socrates himself was the supreme eristic,72 and certainly his arguments, as they appear in Plato, were sometimes of a rather dubious nature; but at least his aim was not personal victory in a Sophistic contest, but the elucidation of the truth. Otherwise his life would have taken a different course, and he might have died a natural death.

As for the various answers which his pupils gave to the unanswered question of the good for man, one or two of these may be made the subject of a short concluding section before we turn, in the next volume, to the one who, whatever we may think of his faithfulness to their master's teaching, was one of the most universal thinkers of all time. The others, so far as our knowledge goes, seem to have seized on one aspect of Socrates and developed it at the expense of the rest. Plato, however much he may have built on to Socraticism in the way of positive doctrine, shows himself aware of its true spirit when his Socrates says that education does not mean handing over knowledge ready made, nor conferring on the mind a capacity that it did not have before, as sight might be given to a blind eye. The eye of the mind is not blind, but in most people it is looking the wrong way. To educate is to convert or turn it round so that it looks in the right direction (Rep. 518b-d).…


1 For Aristotle on definition before Socrates see vol. II, 483f. (Democritus and the Pythagoreans: for the latter add Metaph. A 987a 20.)

2 So Pohlenz thought (Die Stoa I. 194f., 2.10). Panaetius lived c. 185-109 B.C.

3 (a)-(c) are in 1.1.12-15 (with (c) repeated at 4.7.5) and (d) in 4.7.6.

4 Xenophon and Plato agree on Socrates's point of view here. Cf. Phaedr. 229e: 'I cannot yet, in the words of the Delphic precept, "know myself', and it seems to me ridiculous to be studying alien matters when still ignorant of this.'

5 This of course was not original. Cf. Gorgias, p. 51 above.

6 It was probably from Cicero rather than Xenophon that Milton took the Socratic sentiments which Adam utters in P.L. book 8, when he agrees with Raphael

That not to know at large of things remote
From use, obscure and subtle, but to know
That which before us lies in daily life
Is the prime wisdom; what is more is fume,
Or emptiness, or fond impertinence,
And renders us in things that most concern
Unpractis'd, unprepared, and still to seek.

7 See pp. 462ff. below.

8 It does not however accord with some of the more metaphysical parts of the Republic, where Socrates is made to express contempt for the application of mathematics and astronomy to practical ends, and to advocate using them as a means of directing the mind away from the physical world to that of the eternal Forms. See for instance the remarks about geometry at 526d-e, and their context. On a comprehensive view of all the evidence about Socrates, the only reasonable conclusion is that Plato is there reaching out beyond anything that the historical Socrates ever said. Kierkegaard drew attention to the contrast between Xenophon and Plato in this respect (Irony, 61 with n.).

9 This chronological point unnecessarily troubled Zeller, who is one of those who have seen not a shred of truth in the autobiographical passage of the Phaedo. E. Edelstein (X. u. P. Bild, 69-73) thought the historicity of the Phaedo guaranteed by its agreement with Xenophon.

10 For Gorgias see Plato, Meno 76c; for Alcidamas, D.L. 8.56; for Antiphon, his frr. 23-32, DK; for Critias, Ar. De an. 405b 5 (Empedoclean identification of the psukhe with blood). Diels made this point in SB Berlin (1894), but he was probably wrong to build up Polus as a student of physics on the basis of Socrates's ironical ou gar toutĐn empeiros at Gorg. 465d (p. 357). Some of these, like Gorgias (who laughed at the physical theorists) and Critias, were no doubt mere dabblers; but the theories were certainly continuing to attract interest.

11 The phrase about 'lying to save his skin' occurs in almost identical words in Hackforth (CPA, 148) and Popper (OS, 308). Popper finds that Apol. and Phaedo flatly contract each other and that only Apol. is to be believed. Hackforth also accepts Apol. as historical, and goes so far as to say (p. 147): 'It is not the least use to say that Socrates had dropped these pursuits when he found science unsatisfying … for the language which he uses rules out … the possibility that at any age whatever he engaged in scientific speculation or research.' Yet rather puzzlingly he can still suppose it 'quite likely that he started with the eager enthusiasm which Plato attributes to him in the famous autobiographical passage of the Phaedo' (pp. 152f.).

12 The 'intellectual autobiography' of the Phaedo is a cento of current theories which even now can be assigned to their authors without difficulty. (See Burnet's notes ad loc.) There is no hint that Socrates made any original contribution.

13 Xen. Mem. 1.1.16. So also Aristotle, e.g. EE 1216b 4: Socrates used to investigate what is justice, what courage, and so with all the other parts of virtue, because he equated the virtues with knowledge.

14 See vol. 11, p. 362, n. I.

15 See Gigon in Mus. Helv. 1959, 192. Compare also the interesting remarks of Deman, Temoignage, 78f.: 'Socrate s'est consacre A la recherche morale, mals il a apporte A cette recherche une preoccupation strictement scientifique', etc.…

16 Pp. 257f., and for the question in general ch. x as a whole. Cf. also 25.

17 The Greek habit of using 'knowledge' … to denote practical skill or trained ability, and of 'explaining character or behaviour in terms of knowledge', has often been remarked on. See Dodds, Gks. & Irrat. 16f., and cf. his Gorgias, 218; Snell, Ausdrucke, and Philol. 1948, 132. Adam on Rep. 382a … remarks that 'the identification of ignorance and vice is in harmony with popular Greek psychology'.

18 1182a 20. In general I have been sparing of quotation from the MM, owing to the widespread view that it is a product of the Peripatos after Aristotle's death.

19EN 1144b 28… (also EE 1230a7).… For the former, see O'Brien, Socr. Parad. 79, n. 58, and for the latter p. 452, n. 3, below. Cf. also p. 501, n. 3.

20Meno 71a, Prot. 360e-361a, Laches 190b.

21 It is curious that Aristotle, in his irritation against Socrates, should go so far as to speak of knowing what goodness or health is and being good or healthy as alternatives, instead of saying only that Socrates's demand does not go far enough. In his own philosophy any practitioner must first have complete in his mind the eidos of what he wishes to produce—health if he is a doctor, a house if he is an architect or builder. Only then does he start to produce it. Thus the formal cause pre-exists in art as well as nature. See Metaph. 1032a 32-1032b 14.…

22 349e-350a, 360d.

23EE 1230a6, and cf. EN 111 6b4.

24Akraola, usually translated 'incontinence', but more literally 'lack of mastery' over one's passions or lower nature; and nasos, emotion, passion.

25 Knowledge … must be demonstrable, and can only be of the universal. See EN 1139b 18ff., 1140b 30ff.…and for a full account of its acquisition An. Post. 2, ch. 19.…

26 Or 'skill acquired by learning', … (pp. 27f. above). For its equation with knowledge cf. also Mem. 4.6.7 …, and Plato, Prot. 350d.

27 See e.g. Mem. 1.5, 2.1, 4.5.

28 So Marchant (Loeb ed.) renders aisthanomenous ekplexasa, on the analogy of pauein, with participle. This gives a sense more obviously in keeping with the 'virtue is knowledge' doctrine, but I doubt if it can be paralleled. Simeterre (Vertu-science, 53, n. 72) more plausibly assumes it means that, although they perceive good and bad, yet, 'comme frappès d'ègarement', they choose the bad, and he cites it as one of the rare passages that appear to contradict the 'virtue is knowledge' doctrine.…

29 On the 'inner connexion between diarein and proairisthoi cf. the remarks of Stenzel in his RE article, 863f.

30 As Aristotle agreed: intemperance distorts one's medical or grammatical knowledge (EE 1246b 27).

31 For other examples in Xenophon see O'Brien, Socr. Parad. 146 n., and compare his whole note 27, from p. 144. On pp. 136-8 (n. 21) he discusses the qualifications to be made to the purely intellectualist interpretation of the definition of virtue as knowledge. When he speaks of Plato's doctrine that 'virtue is not knowledge alone, but knowledge (or right opinion) built on natural endowment and long training', one might well ask whether Plato believed that there was any other kind of knowledge. The selection and education of the guardians in the Republic suggest that he did not. Pp. 147f. state rather differently the way in which the virtues are 'not knowledge alone', bringing out more clearly one of the Platonic modifications of Socratic doctrine.

32 Simeterre puts it well (Vertu-science, 71): 'Dans les techniques, et quelles qu'elles soient, on ne devient ma tre qu'aprés un long apprentissage, un sèvére entra nement. On ne s'en dispense pas dans l'art difficile de la vertu.'

33 See the quotation from T. S. Kuhn on p. 352 above.

34E. u. X S. 1.256: 'Die Stärke des Charakters wird zur Schwaiche der Philosophie.' See p. 258 above.

35 Joël is good on this, e.g. on p. 222 where he speaks of 'the general historical law that every new truth is at first accepted absolutely before its individuality and relativity are recognized'; and p. 249: 'Every beginning is one-sided, and Socrates marks the beginning of Geistesphilosophie.' One may however, while admitting the rationalistic bias of Socrates, differ from him over the extent to which Xenophon has distorted it. Simeterre's conclusion on this is sound (Vertu-science, 54): with his practical inclinations, he may have exaggerated the role of asknais ……but if he has not maintained his master's thesis at every point, he has not failed to give us the essentials.

36Tim. 86d, Laws 731c and 860d, Prot. 345 d, Meno 78a, Rep. 589c. Related are Soph. 228c, Phileb. 22b.

37 Joel, as we have seen, rejected Xenophon's account on the grounds that it allowed for eulein which on the Socratic paradox is impossible. But if we wish to pick on every apparent inconsistency, we can say equally that Plato himself denied that according to Socrates it is impossible to do wrong willingly.…

38EN 1114a11, 1113b16.

39 I think it is plain that the author of the M M has heard no more attributed to Socrates than that no one would choose to be unjust.…

40 Cf. Apol. 23a-b: Apollo revealed to Socrates the inadequacy of human wisdom and laid on him the task of bringing it home to others; Xen. Mem. 1.3.2: he prayed for no specific thing, because the gods know best what things are good.

41 … With the Rep. passage cf. Clitophon 409c.

42 P. 388 above. The beauty competition in Xenophon's Symp. (described just before) is fought on the same arguments.…

43 In Xenophon (Mem. 4.2.32) Socrates gives an example of circumstances in which the sick may have an advantage over the healthy.

44Mem. 3.8.1-7, 4.6.8-9.

45 This particular example is invented, not taken from a Socratic conversation; but it is essentially Socratic.

46 Gouldner, Enter Plato, 182, which I quote to draw attention to his sensible remarks on this and the following page.

47 This is Xenophon's example at Mem. 4.6.13 ff., quoted on pp. 433 f. above.

48 Plato, Gorg. 469b, 509c, 477a. Such doctrine was not to be produced on every occasion, nor in answer to every kind of question. In judging conversations like that with Aristippus, it is important not to forget what Grote pointed out (Plato, III, 538): 'The real Socrates, since he talked incessantly and with everyone, must have known how to diversify his conversation and adapt it to each listener.'

49 'Socratic Doctrine of the Soul', Ess. & Add. 140. The above translations from the Apology are his.

50 In the very speech in which he exhorts the Athenians to 'care for their psyche' in an entirely different sense, Socrates can also use philopsukhia in this sense of a clinging to mere life (Apol. 37c).…

51 01.2.70. This might be said to be in an Orphic setting, since the passage deals with transmigration and the blessedness awaiting those who have lived three righteous lives in succession.

52 Fr. 97 N. Since this is a little inconvenient for Burnet's argument, he can only say that it 'goes rather beyond its [the psyche's] ordinary range' (p. 154), and he is similarly impelled to play down the significance of Soph. Phil. 55 and 1013 (p. 156). It must be said, however, that psyche is sometimes used as a synonym for a person, even redundantly or periphrastically.… Perhaps it has little more weight at Ph. 55, where 'to deceive the psyche of Philoctetes' means simply to deceive Philoctetes, though it is arguable that the periphrasis would hardly have been possible here if it had not been natural to associate the psyche with the mind.

53 … Antiphon Tetr. A. a. 7. This is quoted by Burnet (154f.), who passes somewhat lightly over the evident power of the psyche to initiate and plan an action.

54 … Thus the later, Stoic epithet for the intelligence, perpetuates the genuine Socratic idea.…

55 Socrates's language is not completely consistent on this point.… This language is construed by Jowett's editors (1, 601 n. 1) as expressing 'the view of reason as an innermost self within the human soul', a view which they call 'characteristic of the last phase of Plato's thought (Philebus, Timaeus)'.…

56 It may be that in some respects Democritus came close to the Socratic position, in spite of the inclusion of soul in his all-embracing materialism. Vlastos has claimed that he 'would advise men, exactly as did Socrates, to care for their souls' (Philos. Rev. 1945, 578ff.) Yet there are legitimate doubts about the genuineness of his ethical fragments, as well as about the relative dates of his writings and Socrates's dialectical activity, and I can add nothing to what I have said in vol. II, 489 ff. On the constitution of the soul in Democritus, see the index s.v. 'atomists: soul'.

57Ess. & Add. 139. Cf. D. Tarrant in CQ, 1938, 167: … The personality of Socrates is … again drawn on familiar lines.' In antiquity the dialogue was universally accepted as Plato's, but its authorship has been doubted in modern times, especially by German critics, against whom it was stoutly defended by its Bude editor Croiset in 1920. More recently its authenticity has been upheld by A. Motte in L'Ant. Class. (1961). See also the appraisal by R. Weil in L'Inf Litt. (1964), and the references given by the revisers of Jowett's Dialogues of Plato, vol. 1, 601 n. I.

58 128b-129a, 124a. Commendation of the Delphic precept occurs again in Plato at Phaedrus, 229e, and in Xenophon at Mem. 4.2.24 and 3.9.6, where not knowing oneself is equated with not knowing one's own ignorance, a folly which in the Alcibiades has already been exposed. Plut. Adv. Col. 1118c quotes Aristotle as saying that it was the starting-point of Socrates's inquiries into the nature of man.…

59 It is difficult to understand what was in Jaeger's mind when he wrote (Paideia, 11, 43) that 'in his [Socrates's] thought, there is no opposition between psychical and physical man'. The body is as extraneous to the man himself, his psyche, as the saw is to the carpenter.

60 In describing the first serious attempt in history to define the meaning of the word 'good', I have not thought it helpful or fair to compare it directly with the ideas of the twentieth century A.D., as set forth in a book like R. M. Hare's Language of Morals. But one outstanding difference between the two may be noted. On p. 100 of that book Professor Hare speaks of certain words which he calls 'functional words', and the example he gives is a Socratic one: 'We do not know what a carpenter is until we know what a carpenter is supposed to do.' But the extrapolation from this kind of case to man in general is no longer allowed: '"man" in "good man" is not normally a functional word, and never so when moral commendation is being given' (p. 145). The point is elaborated in his essay reprinted in the Foot collection, pp. 78-82.

61…As often, one envies the elusiveness which the omission of the noun makes possible for a Greek. It is by no means certain that 'part' is the best word to supply.…

62 The sentences about using God as a mirror are omitted from our manuscripts of the dialogue, but were read by Eusebius and other ancient authors. They are restored by Burnet in the Oxford text and in Jowett's translation, and are obviously necessary to complete the rather elaborate analogy with mirrors and the eye which Plato is drawing. Croiset's objection (Bude ed. 110 n. 1) that they only repeat what has gone before is misleading, nor is his claim convincing that their content has a Neoplatonic tinge.

63 A similar argument is used in Plato's Philebus (29b-30b), a late dialogue which nevertheless has Socrates as its chief speaker. The idea behind it certainly goes back to the fifth century.

64 See the phrases collected by Zeller, Ph. d. Gr. 178 n. 3.

65 See vol. 1, especially 480f. and 466 with n. 2.

66 Concerning the historicity of the Apol. every shade of opinion has been held (see Ehnmark in Eranos, 1946, 106ff. for this, especially in its bearing on the question of immortality), but few have been found to deny its essential faithfulness to the Socratic philosophy. Admittedly a special case has been made of the third speech (38cff.), delivered after sentence has been passed, but even a sceptic like Wilamowitz agreed that in composing it 'Plato must have carefully avoided saying anything that Socrates himself could not have said' (Ehnmark, he. cit. 108). There is really no good reason to separate this speech from the rest, and about the whole the most reasonable supposition is that Plato (who makes a point of mentioning his own presence at the trial: 34a, 38b), while doubtless polishing up and reducing to better order what Socrates actually said, has not falsified the facts or the spirit of his remarks. At the very most, he will have gone no further than Thucydides in reporting speeches in his history, some of which he had only heard at second hand. See p. 85 above. In Plato's case we must take into account that he was present himself and that the occasion was the final crisis in the life of the man whom he admired most in all the world. It is sufficient guarantee that he has given the substance of what Socrates said, and that, if anything has been added by way of vindicating Socrates's memory, it will be in keeping with his real character and views.

If it is still denied that we can know for certain whether Socrates himself used the opportunity of his trial to make such a complete apologia pro vita sua, we can only reply that it would have been an entirely reasonable thing for him to do, and that in any case the account of his life and beliefs which Plato gives us is true to the real man.

67 Cf. Apol. 40c, … Phaedo, 117c, … and 40e, … with 61 e.… On the relations between the Apol. and Phaedo see also Ehnmark in Eranos, 1946.

68 It is obviously theoretically possible that parallels between Apol. and Phaedo are due to the Platonic character of the former rather than to Socratic elements in the latter. Only this feeling of personal acquaintance with an integral character, Socrates, enables one to reject such an—as I see it—incredible hypothesis.

69 Xen. Mem. 1.1.6-9, especially 9:.…Hackfort h put it well (CPA, 96): 'H e was, I think, content and wisely content not to attempt an explicit reconciliation of reason with faith; not out of indifference, nor in a spirit of complacent, condescending toleration of traditional belief, but rather because he possessed that rare wisdom which knows that, while no bounds may properly be set to the activity of human reason.…'

70 See especially in the Phaedo, 61b-c, 64a, 67c-e.

71 Perhaps the man who came nearest to the aims of Socrates in his search for the meanings of words was not a Greek at all, but a contemporary in a distant land who knew nothing of him. It was said of Confucius (Analects, 13.3) that when asked what he would do first if he were given charge of the administration of a country, he replied: 'It would certainly be to correct language' (World's Classics translation). His hearers were surprised, so he explained that if language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, what ought to be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and arts deteriorate, justice goes astray, and the people stand about in helpless confusion. With this may be compared the words given to Socrates by Plato, Phaedo, 115e: 'You may be sure, my dear Cebes, that inaccurate language is not only in itself a mistake: it implants evil in men's souls' (trans. Bluck).

72 See especially his Plato, III, 479, where he says that although the Megarians acquired the name of eristics, they 'cannot possibly have surpassed Socrates, and probably did not equal him, in the refutative elenchus … No one of these Megarics probably ever enunciated so sweeping a negative a negative programme, or declared so emphatically his own inability to communicate positive instruction, as Socrates in the Platonic Apology. A person more thoroughly eristic than Socrates never lived.'

A. D. Woozley (essay date 1971)

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SOURCE: "Socrates on Disobeying the Law," in The Philosophy of Socrates: A Collection of Critical Essays, University of Notre Dame Press, 1971, pp. 299-318.

[Here, Woozley studies the apparent discrepancy between (1) Socrates's statement at his trial that if he were discharged on the condition that he give up philosophy, he would disobey the order, and (2) Socrates's insistence after the trial, when prompted by a follower to escape, that he must obey the law.]


Socrates is commonly characterised, and indeed on occasion characterised himself (or is so represented by Plato), as a negative thinker: one who provoked a member of his circle to propose a confident opinion on, say, the nature of virtue, or of one of the virtues, and who then proceeded, by unrelenting use of the elenchus method, to destroy first the opinion offered, and then the successive amendments and substitutions advanced to meet his earlier objections. The result of a philosophical conversation would be that half a dozen or so suggestions had been eliminated, but not even a tentative positive conclusion reached; the Euthyphro is a typical example. Although the method was liable to exasperate his victims, Socrates insisted that it was not eristic, but reflected his own genuine perplexity on the subject under discussion (cf. Men. 80C). His unremitting scrutiny of received opinions, deflating them but confessing himself ignorant of what the true answer was, must have done much to create the establishment's antipathy to him, resulting in his trial and conviction on a charge of corrupting youth.

A noteworthy feature of Socrates' discussion of a man's duty or obligation to obey the law is that it does not follow the usual would-be eliminative method. In the Crito he does not play the part of the interrogator, asking Crito whether and why we should obey the law, and wearing him down with counterquestions; he comes out forthrightly himself with his own answers and with his reasons for them. And the Apology, which also raises the question of obedience to the law, is not a dialogue at all; throughout, Socrates is represented as speaking in his own person, first defending himself at his trial, then, after his conviction, proposing a suitable sentence, and finally, after sentence of death had been passed by the court, making his final address.

While the detailed ordering and dating of Plato's dialogues are likely to remain beyond any definitive settlement, there is nowadays little disagreement among scholars about the general sequence. While both the Apology and the Crito cannot have been composed before Socrates' trial in 399 B.C., they were almost certainly written shortly afterwards and belong to the early group of dialogues in which the character "Socrates" may be taken fairly to represent the views of the actual Socrates. Furthermore, whatever use Plato later made of "Socrates" to expound and discuss Plato's own philosophical views, it is impossible to believe that, when writing about something on which he felt so strongly as the McCarthyite trial and execution of his revered teacher, he would have done anything other than present the beliefs and arguments of the historical Socrates as accurately as he could; both works are by way of being obituary memoirs. We can, therefore, confidently rely on them as a source of Socrates' views on one's duty to obey the law.

That in itself generates a problem, for there appears to be a flat contradiction between the two works. In the Apology Socrates says (29D) that if the court were to discharge him conditionally on his giving up engaging in philosophical enquiry and debate, he would unhesitatingly disobey the order. In the Crito he suggests (50B) that a city cannot survive if its court's verdicts and orders do not prevail; furthermore, if it is his general principle that any law must be obeyed, that, taken together with the statement (50C) that there is a law of Athens laying down that the judgement of a court is legally binding, entails the conclusion that one must not try to evade the court's judgement, including the prescribed sentence. The Crito proceeds to develop arguments, not merely for obeying the laws in general, but also for abiding by court decisions in particular, even if, in a particular case, the decision was unjust or wrongly given (50C). The underlying thesis here is that a court's judgement or order is verdictive (in this respect analogous to the ruling of an umpire or referee in a game), and that, even if the legal system provides for appeals, a series of appeals has to be finite, and where it stops it stops; if an error in justice persists right to the end, then, even so, the sentence must be carried out; and where the sentence is, as in the case of Socrates, execution by suicide, the sentenced man owes it to the laws to carry it out himself.

How are we to relate the views in the Apology with those in the Crito? In terms of Socrates' biography, the end of the trial and the conversation in his prison cell are separated by little, if any, more than four weeks. In terms of composition, the two works were probably more widely separated, by how much we cannot tell; but, for reasons already given, we can hardly doubt that they are substantially accurate in their report of Socrates at that time; that rules out misrepresentation by Plato.

One writer indeed has taken the step of supposing that the inconsistency was deliberate, and is to be attributed to Plato, not to Socrates. Grote (Plato, Vol. 1) maintains that in composing the Crito Plato quite deliberately presented Socrates as an out-and-out defender of the law, complete with highly emotional appeals to patriotism, in order to counteract the bad impression which he had made at his trial (correctly reported in the Apology) of being an intellectually arrogant person, who regarded himself as being a privileged exception who was above the law. One of the accusations levelled against him at his trial, according to Xenophon, was that of "inducing his associates to disregard the established laws …"; if he had such a reputation, his performance at his trial would have done nothing but confirm it. And people who claim for themselves the right to break the law with impunity do madden their fellows, both by their arrogance, and by the fact of their not being amenable to rational consideration of the possibility of their being wrong. It is not difficult to believe that, whether deservedly or not, Socrates had that reputation, and that for it he was widely hated. Plato then, according to Grote, deliberately set out in the Crito to do whatever he could to correct the unfortunate public impression which Socrates had made, and to restore his reputation; the dialogue, in consequence, is meant not as a serious philosophical discussion, but as a rhetorical performance designed solely to change people's attitude to Socrates; and that is why Plato has Socrates rest all the emphasis on two themes: first, the paramount necessity of obeying the law and a legal decision, however unjust it may be; and second, his own personal devotion to his native city of Athens.

The trouble with this interpretation of the Crito is that the only thing tolerably certain about it is the public reputation of Socrates from which it starts. The rest is pure conjecture; we have no evidence, external or internal, that the Crito was not a genuinely Socratic dialogue. If we could independently establish that it was not, then we could use that to explain the difference in Socrates' attitude towards disobedience to the law in it and in the Apology respectively. But, as we cannot independently establish that it was not a genuinely Socratic dialogue, we cannot just say that it was not, and then conclude that that accounts for the difference; this is simply to beg the question at issue. We have no positive reason to read the Crito as a job of rhetorical whitewashing by Plato. And, in view of Plato's known opinion of rhetoric, as expounded in the Gorgias, we should in any case only be patching up one inconsistency at the price of disclosing another.

In default of other evidence we have, then, to take it that, as presented by Plato, Socrates was speaking sincerely both in the Apology and in the Crito; which rules out knowing inconsistency. Similarly, we can rule out a change of mind within the last month of his life, for in the Crito he insists that there has been none; he cannot abandon his old principles unless confronted by arguments better than anything so far produced (46BC). We are left, then, with two alternatives: (a) that there was an inconsistency, but he was unaware of it; (b) that there is an interpretation of the passages involved which does not render them incompatible. (a) is so implausible that it is very hard to accept. How could a man with any pretensions to being reasonable and high principled, let alone a Socrates, declare at his trial that he would not obey a particular court order, and then less than a month later refuse to disobey a court order because such orders must always be obeyed—and not notice the contradiction? Such an inconsistency cannot be rationally explained; it will have just to be accepted, but only if no alternative under (b) can be found.

Various possibilities offer themselves.

  1. Is the court at Apology 29C being imagined to be offering Socrates a conditional discharge, the condition being that he will no longer spend his time in philosophical enquiry and discussion? Socrates, in his reply that he must obey God rather than them, and that he would not change his way of life, even if he had to die many deaths (30C), would be rejecting the offer. This would not be inconsistent with his line in the Crito, for he would be saying that he could not accept an offer, the terms of which were such that he could neither abide by them (this would be to disobey his God), nor violate them (this would be to disobey the law). But this interpretation will not do, because it depends on the notions of an offer and its acceptance or rejection; and they are not there in the text. We must not blur the distinction between a court offering an accused man a conditional discharge on the one hand, and a court discharging an accused man conditionally on the other. In the first case, the discharge is not made, unless and until the conditional offer is accepted; in the second case the discharge is made, but it holds good for only as long as the man meets the condition. It is like the difference between binding a man over in his own recognisances to keep the peace, and releasing him on probation, subject to his keeping the peace. There is no doubt that what we have in the Apology is the notion of the court discharging Socrates conditionally, not its offering him a conditional discharge. The court says (as imagined by Socrates): "This time we shall not be persuaded by Anytus; instead, we are discharging you—however, subject to this condition, that you no longer spend your time in this pursuit or in doing philosophy; and, if you are caught still doing it, you will die" (29C). And Socrates' reply begins: "If you were to discharge me on these terms …" (29D). There is nothing about offering to discharge, only about discharging.
  2. Could Socrates be making use of the distinction between a law, which must (as a matter of logic) be legally correct, and a legal decision of a court, which might not be? He would be announcing that he would not meet the condition laid down by the court, because it was itself in some way illegal; it might be unconstitutional, or the court might be acting ultra viresthat court might not have the authority to impose that condition. This situation is real enough. Leaving aside cases in which there is a problem of legal interpretation, it does happen from time to time that a trial court gets the law wrong or exceeds its jurisdiction; and one of the prime reasons for the existence of appeal courts is to provide an opportunity for reversing such errors. So Socrates would be maintaining throughout that we must obey the law, and consistently with that claiming the right, or even the duty, to ignore a court's judgement if it was illegal.

    Nevertheless, this interpretation of Socrates' attitude in the Apology cannot be accepted either, and for two reasons. First, he nowhere does suggest that such a decision by the court would be illegal, let alone that its illegality would be his reason for refusing to comply with the condition which it imposed. The nearest he comes to giving his reason is in his references to God: "I will obey God rather than you" (29D); "for know well, this is what God commands, and I think no greater good has yet befallen you in the city than my service to God" (30A). Second, this interpretation would repair one inconsistency between the Apology and the Crito, but only by opening another; for, as previously mentioned, Socrates in the latter insists that requirement to obey the law carries with it requirement to abide by the judgement of a court, however unjust it may be (SOB). It cannot be said that such a judgement is illegal, for there is a law on the books specifically excluding that. And if, for reasons yet to be considered, we are morally obligated to do whatever we are legally required to do, we cannot justify disobedience to a court along the lines of the present interpretation.

  3. Can Socrates in the Apology passage be advancing a doctrine of natural law—that no putative law or legal requirement which is not in accordance with the commands of God is legally valid? Socrates clearly is in a position in which he finds a conflict between a supposedly valid requirement of law and the commands of God, and he clearly is saying that the commands of God are to be preferred to the commands of man. But he cannot be saying that putative legal requirements are not actually legal requirements if they are in conflict with the commands of God; for, if he were, he would be involving himself in the same inconsistency as under the previous interpretation, allowing in the Apology and disallowing in the Crito that a court order could fail to be legally valid. Socrates may have been a natural law theorist of a sort, but he was not one of that sort. We have to distinguish between appealing to the will of God in justification of disobedience to a law or legal order, and appealing to the will of God in justification of a denial that they are a law or legal order. Correspondingly, while few of us were distressed by the fate of men like Goering or Eichmann, some had misgivings about the legality of the trials.
  4. It is certain that Socrates is appealing to the will of God in justification of his preparedness to disobey the court, if it puts a ban on his philosophical activities. In declaring that he will undergo anything, even death, rather than submit to what is morally wrong (32A), he is adhering to the principle of the conscientious objector. What is wrong and what is illegal may coincide; and they did in the case of the decision to try collectively the ten admirals after the battle of Arginusae, which Socrates was the only member of the executive of the time to oppose. But they may not coincide; Socrates does not suggest that the Thirty, in instructing him to go with others to arrest Leon of Salamis, were giving an order that was illegal. But, because he was not prepared to be terrified by a powerful government into doing anything that was either adikon or anhosion (i.e., either wrong in relation to men or wrong in relation to God), he disobeyed the order (32D). This is in line with one theme in the Crito, viz. that, regardless of what popular opinion may say, there are no circumstances in which one should willingly do wrong; if that is so, a man should not willingly do wrong, even when he receives an order from his government to do something which in fact is wrong (49A). It perhaps does not appear to be in line with another theme in the Crito, viz. that a man must either do whatever his city orders him to do or must persuade her where the rightness of the matter lies (51C); and he specifically mentions a law court as an instance where this rule must hold. It is true that Socrates distinguishes between a state and the politicians who act in its name, so that he was able with a clear conscience to disobey the wicked orders of the Thirty; and again he distinguishes between the laws and the men who supposedly implement them (54C). A convicted man may (if he is able to) console himself that it was human error or evil in the application of law that brought about his conviction; the law itself was not at fault. But this does not help us, because of Socrates' insistence that it is not for a private citizen to render a court's judgement ineffective; the rule that the judgement of a court is to be effective is itself a rule of law (50B).
  5. Nevertheless, the permitted alternative to obedience, viz. persuading the laws that their order is wrong, suggests a solution to the difficulty. What in the Apology Socrates is prepared to do against the court is not the same as what in the Crito he is not prepared to do against the court. Generically, it is in both cases a question of obedience or disobedience, but at the specific level there is a difference. In the Apology Socrates is not taking the line which he had the reputation of taking, namely that being divinely directed he was altogether above the law, and consequently would ignore the court's judgement, no matter what it was. It is only one possible judgement that he is prepared to disobey, namely one banning him from further philosophizing in Athens. And his disobedience will take the single form of openly continuing to practise philosophy the way he always has; there is no suggestion of concealment, of trying to evade the law by holding clandestine philosophical meetings. He will conduct himself exactly as he always has, pursuing the truth with anybody he meets, foreigners or citizens of Athens alike (30A). On the other hand, the disobedience to a lawful command which he is not prepared to countenance in the Crito is of the kind which would do violence and injury to the law, and which would be exemplified by the course of action which Crito is urging on him, viz. escape. And all disobedience to lawful commands is of this kind, with the single exception of attempting to convince the state that it is wrong in the law or command concerned. But this permitted exception to the rule of obedience is precisely what he had proposed to follow in the Apology. There, while insisting that he must obey God rather than the court, he made it clear that obedience to God not merely coincided with trying to convince Athens that he was right, it actually consisted in that: "I shall obey God rather than you, and, as long as I breathe and have the ability, I shall never give up philosophizing, and both exhorting you and demonstrating the truth to you" (29D).

This is civil disobedience indeed, but of the kind that stays and attempts to change minds by reason, and does not try to escape the legal consequences of doing it; not of the kind that uses violence, or tries to dodge the law by escaping. Socrates' kind of civil disobedience may be quixotic; that will depend on how ineffective in the particular circumstances the lone voice of the protester is. But such obedience is not dishonourable: as long as the protester stays within the reach of the law, no harm is done to it, and it does not suffer any disrepute—as might be the case, if a successful escape were to show its ineffectiveness. The one course other than obedience to the law and its commands which Socrates' argument in the Crito (51-52) permits is the one course which he had said in the Apology (29-30) he would, if banned from philosophy, take. Once we see that it is not the doctrine of the Crito that a man must always, and no matter what, obey the laws of his state, the supposed conflict between that dialogue and the Apology disappears.


Socrates' arguments in the Crito why he should not make a last minute escape fall into two parts: first a negative section (44B-48D) in which he convinces Crito of the inadequacy, indeed the irrelevance (48C), of the reasons which he had given why Socrates should allow his friends to organize an escape; and then a positive section (49B-54D) in which he himself gives the reasons why he should not. The two points to notice about the first section are the nature of Crito's plea, and the unsatisfactoriness of Socrates' reply to it. Although it has not always been appreciated, the reasons which Crito advances are moral ones, reasons why Socrates ought to agree to the escape; appeals to Socrates' sense of prudence or personal advantage would, no doubt, have been useless, and Crito sensibly makes none. (It has to be acknowledged, however, that here, as in the Republic, Socrates does in the end rest the case for doing what is right on its being the best policy, i.e., to the advantage of the agent [54B-C].) Crito claims (1) that Socrates owes it to his friends to escape, (a) because, if he does not, he will be depriving them of his irreplaceable friendship (44B); (b) because, if he does not, they will thereby acquire a poor public reputation: it will be generally (although incorrectly) believed that, when they could have saved him, they failed either through meanness or from fear of the risk to themselves (44C-E). (That a man should, at such a time, be concerned with his own reputation may not be morally creditable. But that does not have the consequence that the claim that a second man should consider the effect of his conduct on the first man's reputation is not a moral claim.)

(2) Crito claims that it would not be right for Socrates to throw his life away when rescue is possible, (c) because he will be allowing his enemies to achieve the very result they wanted (45C); (d) because he will be betraying his children: either people should not have children at all, or they should discharge their responsibility of bringing them up and educating them. Socrates professes to have cared for goodness all his life, yet, when given a chance to play the part of a good and courageous man, he is just taking the easiest way out (45D-E).

Of those four arguments, Socrates makes no reference at all to (a) and (c), summarily dismisses (d) as irrelevant (48C), and concentrates only on (b), his reply to which is, in fact, not a refutation of Crito's claim, but at crosspurposes with it. Summarily, his line is not to disagree with the factual element of Crito's argument, viz. that Crito and Socrates' other friends, who could have helped him escape but did not, would be condemned by popular opinion for meanness or cowardice, but to maintain that on such difficult questions as those of right and wrong one should attend not to all opinions, but only to some, namely the sound opinions of those who really know about right and wrong (46D-48A). This does not answer Crito's point, which had been that one has to pay regard to public opinion, just because of the harm it can do, regardless of whether the opinion is correct or incorrect. If the question had been, not whether a certain popular opinion was held, but whether it was either correctly or justifiably held, Socrates' objection would have been to the point. The only assertion that he makes directly counter to Crito's claim is that public opinion is so fickle that it is incapable of doing either great harm or great good (44D). This, if it were true, would be a serious objection to Cri-to, but Socrates does not pursue it. Instead he switches to his theme that one cannot expect to get a well-informed or intelligent opinion from the man in the street. But, as any politician knows who takes seriously his public responsibility, there can be circumstances in which it is more important that a certain opinion is held than that it is incorrect. That such a recognition can easily degenerate into the most sycophantic form of demagoguery is a good reason for being cautious how much weight should be given to it in a particular situation, but is not a good reason for denying it. Erroneous public opinion has to be lived with, until it can be corrected. If living with it can take the form of ignoring it, so much the better; but, as the effect of public opinion is a function, not only of what the opinion is, but also of the strength with which it is held, it cannot be right to say, with Socrates, that the only question is that about the correctness or justifiability of the opinion concerned. If there is a reason why public opinion ought to be ignored in the particular situation of Socrates and his friends who wish to rescue him, it must be a reason more specific to the situation, or type of situation, than that which Socrates produces himself. Injury to Crito's reputation may not be a good, let alone a good enough, reason for Socrates to agree that he ought to escape, but it is not totally irrelevant to it.

In the only place where Socrates even mentions Crito's argument (d), he does so to lump it together with (b) as irrelevant to the question of whether or not it would be right to make an escape (48C). Why he should have been so casual in his attitude towards parental responsibility we cannot tell. He cannot have been reflecting a general attitude of the day: there is plenty of evidence in literature to the contrary, and Crito himself had just expressed the orthodox view. One would all the more like to know what Socrates really believed here, because of the great emphasis which he was shortly going to place on the responsibility of children to their parents: a generalised form of that was one of the two grounds on which he rested the proposition that we ought to obey the law.

He has two positive arguments about why we should obey the law, both stemming from the general principle that it can never be right to do what is wrong, even in requital for wrong treatment that one has suffered (49B); and, as there is no difference between ill treatment and doing wrong, one should not give ill treatment in return for ill treatment which he has suffered (49B-C).

It appears that in talking of giving ill treatment in return for ill treatment one has received, Socrates is thinking in terms of revenge or retaliation, of the injured party getting his own back. Whether he would have thought it was also wrong in the case of retribution, or of institutionalised punishment in general, we have no means of telling. But they do need distinguishing, for it does not follow from the fact that a certain action would be wrong if performed in retaliation that an otherwise identical action would be wrong if performed in retribution. Further, conduct which would be wrong, if it were not the execution of punishment, might not be wrong, if it were. One cannot answer the question whether to deprive a man of freedom by shutting him up in a cell is wrong, without a further description of the situation, in particular of the reasons for and the purpose of shutting him up, together with the rules, if any, which applied to the situation. Descriptions can be correct or incorrect; but, because even when correct they cannot be complete, i.e., such that it would be logically impossible for anything further to be added, selection of the specific description to be used determines the moral assessment to be given. The principle that it is always wrong to give out ill treatment, even in return for ill treatment received, needs more refinement before it can be accepted as the truth which Socrates took it to be.

In order to demonstrate that one should not disobey the law, Socrates develops two arguments showing how disobedience is wrong. Neither of them is the familiar straightforward utilitarian argument that the regulation of conduct by laws provides social benefits not otherwise (as readily, at least) obtainable; but underlying both is the utilitarian consideration of the social harm produced by disobedience, that disobedience destroys laws and state (50B): the appeal is an appeal to the consequences of disobedience. (Producing a utilitarian justification for having a system of laws at all is not necessary to a utilitarian justification, given that we have a system of laws, of the need for obedience to them.)

In view of the fact that concepts like duty and obligation do not fit happily into the framework of Socratic or Platonic thought, it may sound paradoxical to say that Socrates' two arguments foreshadow a distinction between duty and obligation, but nevertheless it seems to be true. The first argument is that a man ought to obey the laws of his country because he owes them the kind of regard he owes to his parents (SOD); the second is that he ought to obey the laws because he has undertaken to do so (51E). (Although Socrates actually formulates the arguments in the singular form, as giving the reasons why he, Socrates, ought to obey the laws of Athens, he would have to allow that, being reasons, they must be general in their application.)

Given the personification of the laws which Socrates imagines for the purposes of the discussion, the representation of them as oversized parents is not too farfetched to be illuminating. By making it possible for people to marry, and to secure the means of rearing and educating their children, the state (which, for these purposes, is not to be distinguished from its laws) has the same kind of rights, only more so, against an individual as his human parents have. The idea that is being foreshadowed here is of something being what we ought to do because it is a duty, where duties are things a man can find himself having without having incurred them. "Duty" is characteristically a role-word, "duty as a …," e.g., duty as a citizen, subject, visitor, parent, child, etc.; and more widely, when used in the plural, it refers to the tasks or jobs that go with the role. The reason why a child ought to obey and respect those who gave him life and saw him through the insecure period before he could fend for himself can have nothing to do with his having taken on a role, for it is not true that he did; they took on theirs, but he did not take on his. A citizen has the role in his native state, although he did not take it on, and with the role go certain duties. In the end, the reason why a man has certain duties towards his parents, or ought to treat them in a certain way, has to come down to some form of gratitude or return for what they have done for him. Provided that the parents/laws have performed their function satisfactorily, they have rights, Socrates thinks, over the children/subjects which the latter do not have over them (51 A). Socrates' parent-laws analogy is not perfect. Although the morality of some societies may require a man to obey his parents even after he has reached adulthood and maybe become a parent himself, this is neither common nor reasonable. And he will have other duties towards them besides; indeed the duty to obey is the first, and perhaps the only one, to lapse. In the case of the law, the only duty is to obey, and it does not lapse. Nevertheless, the analogy goes far enough. By being a citizen of a country which through its laws provides him with certain advantages of security and stability a man has duties which he has in no way undertaken. And his having them does not depend on his being free to leave; he may not be, and the duties do not vanish if he is not; this is indeed part of the reason why duty and obligation need to be distinguished.

Socrates' second argument is the argument later employed in the Social Contract theory of political obligation, that a man ought to obey the law to the extent that he has given an undertaking that he will. A man ought to do whatever he has undertaken to do, provided that what he has undertaken to do is right (49E), and that the undertaking has been freely given, i.e., not extracted by either duress or fraud (52E). Undertakings can be given by actions, as well as by formal written or spoken promises (52D). A man continuing to live in a state when he is free to leave it, as Athenians were (51D), thereby gives an undertaking to obey the law, which is nonetheless a real undertaking for being silent. Here again the basis of Socrates' argument is perfectly sound. However much the notion of tacit agreement or consent may have been overworked and overstretched by later political theorists, and by politicians trying to put rebellious youth in its place, the natural citizen of a state does not fail to have, or avoid having, the obligations which the naturalized citizen of it has, merely because it is false of the former, although true of the latter, that there was a time t at which he formally undertook the obligations, and that he undertook them by declaring that he did. It is tempting to add that Socrates, in juxtaposing but not treating as synonyms syntheke and homologia (52D-E), was recognising the difference between mutual promises (those for which a consideration is received) and gratuitous promises (those without consideration). Some legal systems (e.g., England) recognize only the first as promises and as eligible for legal enforcement, other systems (e.g., Scotland) recognize both; in morality we recognize both. Unfortunately, so little indication is given in the Crito of the difference supposed between syntheke and homologia, and Plato was always, as an author, so far from being a precise technician in his choice of words, that we run the risk of ascribing to Socrates a distinction which he had never thought of.

While Socrates in effect maintained that a man ought always to perform his duty as a citizen, and always to fulfil his obligation as a contracting party, to obey the law (subject to the qualification, previously discussed, of his right to attempt to convince the law that it was in some area and in some respect wrong), that was not, for him, the end of the line. While it appears that he would have regarded the propositions that a man ought to perform his duties, and that he ought to fulfil his obligations, as necessary (thereby excluding exceptions) and as nontautologous, he did not think that no reason could be given in support of them. What he would be doing, if he allowed the escape plan to go on and render the court's verdict and sentence ineffective, would be for his part to destroy the laws and the whole city (50B). A man ought to obey the law: he has both a duty and an obligation to do so; and a challenge to either is to be met by pointing out the socially destructive consequences of disobedience.

It may be questioned whether either of Socrates' theses is tenable: (I) that a man should always obey the law; (2) that he should always obey because the consequences of disobedience are, or would be, socially destructive. The weakness in (2) has to be shown first, because, although, even if (2) is false, (1) might still be true, the possibility of (1) being false is thereby opened up. As long as it is accepted as true that the consequences of any disobedience to law are socially destructive, it provides a strong inducement to retain (1).

First, it should be noticed that Socrates is using a "What would happen if … ?" argument. And we have to distinguish more clearly than he appears to do the question what would happen if he, as a single private individual, flouted the court's decision in his particular case, from the question what would happen if court decisions were always flouted by private individuals. We can allow that universal flouting of court decisions would sooner or later destroy the whole legal system; this is to justify the requirement of wholesale obedience by appeal to the socially destructive consequences of wholesale disobedience. But the harmful consequences of a single act of disobedience by a single individual would, unless his example triggered off wider disobedience, be negligible. So, the answer to the question "What would happen if… ?", more specifically "What would happen by way of harm to the state and its laws if… ?", asked of a single act of disobedience, as asked of a single broken promise, would almost always be "Nothing." For the "What would happen i f. ?" question to have the effect of showing that conduct, which would be wrong in the wholesale case (because it would be socially destructive), would be wrong in the single case (although it would not be socially destructive), it has to be combined with a principle of fairness or justice; if a practice of everyone behaving in a certain way is justified by the social need for it, then it is not fair to the rest for anyone to gain an advantage for himself by making an exception of himself when his doing so will not imperil the practice. Disutility is the argument against destroying the practice, or against exceptions to it which will imperil it; the argument against exceptions which will not imperil the practice has to be the unfairness of exempting oneself from a practice which is socially useful or even indispensable.

If the only argument against general disobedience were of the kind produced by Socrates, namely that it has socially destructive effects, we have to ask how far it is true that it does. There are six possibilities of some or all people disobeying some or all of the laws:

  1. Some people disobey some laws.
  2. All people disobey some laws.
  3. Some laws are disobeyed by all people.
  4. All laws are disobeyed by some people.
  5. Some people disobey all laws.
  6. All people disobey all laws.

(The other mathematically possible cases are, in fact, identical with i. and vi. respectively.) i. almost certainly is true of every society, and probably ii. (there is nobody of whom it is true that there is no law which he ever disobeys) is also, but neither by itself has been enough to ruin any society. In the case of iii. (there are some laws of which it is true that nobody obeys them), if the laws in question are bad ones, the consequences of universal disobedience could be, although they are not necessarily, good; the same consideration, in a weaker form, applies to i. and ii. Similarly with iv.: although it may not be a good thing if it is the case that there is no law which is not disobeyed by someone, it is not in itself disastrous. v. could be true without its being much more than a nuisance, if the number of consistent violators were small enough for the officers of the law to be able to cope with them easily. Indeed, over all the cases i.-v., whether the disobedience imperilled the law and the state would depend on the extensiveness of the "some." This is not to say that in all these cases disobedience is right, or even all right, but it is to say that in plenty of instances falling under them it could not be maintained that disobedience was wrong for Socrates' reason, viz., that such disobedience threatened the survival of the state. And it is not cynical to say that, even if it were never right for anyone to disobey any of the laws to which he was subject, it might nevertheless be a good thing if somebody occasionally did, so that the example of his conviction and sentence might discourage other potential lawbreakers.

In fact, the only case to which the argument of social disaster clearly applies is vi. Some would regard even that as questionable, asking us to imagine a through-and-through evil legal system, the destruction of which we ought to hasten as fast as we can by systematic disobedience. But against that it can be objected that a 100 per cent pernicious legal system could not exist, for it could not meet one of the necessary conditions of being a legal system, viz., that of actually regulating men's conduct. Individual laws, even wide areas of a body of law, can be pernicious, but a whole system could not be.

It might be suggested that in 50B Socrates is using a quite different line of argument from the one here criticised, and be maintaining that a state cannot survive in which anyone is free to take the law into his own hands, i.e., to decide for himself when to obey or to disobey a law, and to decide with impunity. It is far from clear that that is what he does mean; but, even if it is, it is again incomplete without the fairness principle. Granted that it is true that a state could hardly survive the practice of everybody pleasing himself when to disobey the law, this has no bearing on the individual case (given that there is no risk of its generating the practice) except through the principle of fairness.

When Socrates' thesis (1), that a man should always obey the law, is separated from thesis (2), which gave the final reason for it, and which has been shown to be untenable, it itself appears less plausible. There are, of course, reasons both of utility and of fairness both why a man should obey the law, and why he should obey a particular law. But it follows from that that it cannot be true that a man should always, and in whatever circumstances, obey the law, or a particular law. If the case for obedience rests on fairness and utility, it must be conceivable that fairness and utility would, in certain circumstances be served by disobedience. Not only is it conceivable, it is actual: the American Revolution against English colonial rule will do as an example. And, if fairness and utility can lie at all on the side of disobedience, it is conceivable that they should outweigh the claims of obedience. We may be thankful to live in a society in which duty to disobey the law appears very rarely and in very extreme circumstances, but we should remember that we live in a society which owes its origin precisely to some men seeing that as their duty and following it.

James Haden (essay date 1979)

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SOURCE: "On Socrates, with Reference to Gregory Vlastos," in The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, December, 1979, pp. 371-89.

[Below, Haden refers to an essay by Gregory Vlastos in which Vlastos maintains that Plato's Socrates is highly reflective of the historical Socrates. Haden argues that as Plato's Socrates has "exercised the decisive influence down through the centuries," it is valuable, whether or not one agrees with Vlastos, to examine Vlastos's conclusions and test them for their "adequacy." Haden goes on to fault Vlastos for measuring Socrates "by a New Testament model."]


In his essay "The Paradox of Socrates,"1 Gregory Vlastos paints a vivid and moving portrait of Socrates, or, as he puts it: "the Platonic Socrates, or, to be more precise, the Socrates of Plato's early dialogues."2 That the man who emerges from these early dialogues is something very like the actual Socrates is Vlastos's opinion. He argues, with great plausibility, that the Xenophontic Socrates is not a man who, on the one hand, could have provoked the Athenians into indicting him and convicting him for subversion of Athenian faith and morals, and on the other could have aroused the devotion of an Alcibiades. The question of the "authentic" Socrates is the kind of question which simply does not admit of any ultimate solution, so there will always be divergent opinions, but regardless of whether or not Plato does portray the real Socrates as he knew him, it is certainly the Platonic Socrates who has exercised the decisive influence down through the centuries. Therefore irrespective of whether one accepts Vlastos's argument (and I for one do), it is worthwhile examining what Vlastos distills from the dialogues as his "recreation of the thought and character of the man,"3 and testing it for its adequacy.

The Socrates of the dialogues has from the beginning fascinated, both attracting and repelling. He fascinates because we can feel that Plato has given us a man, not just a doctrine; it is the moral force of this Socrates which will not leave us alone. Vlastos acts rightly, then, in trying to probe to the heart of this singular character. What he believes he finds there is a living paradox. "Other philosophers have talked about paradox," he says. "Socrates did not. The paradox in Socrates is Socrates."4 Perhaps this is true; certainly the Platonic Socrates is enigmatic, but is he a paradox?

What is the paradox which Vlastos believes he sees? It is the puzzle of a Socrates who says, with total sincerity, that "the care of the soul is the most important thing in the world, and that his mission in life is to get others to see this," and at the same time a Socrates who, in his mission and his labor, is not shown as

saying anything about the improvement of the soul, nor acting as though he cared a straw for the improvement of his interlocutor's soul, but … simply arguing with him, forcing him into one corner after another, until it [becomes] plain to all the bystanders, if not the man himself, that his initial claim to know this or that was ridiculously false.5

That is to say, here is a man whose deepest concern is the care of the soul, who acts every minute out of that concern, and yet one whose actions are at best futile and at worst destructive. How an "evangelist" for the inner worth of each individual can knowingly and deliberately destroy those whom he evangelizes is the problem which troubles Vlastos.

Certainly Vlastos is pointing inexorably to an aspect or interpretation of Socrates which is enormously widespread. The normal initial reaction of the tyro in philosophy on reading his first Socratic dialogue is a revulsion from the pitiless inquisition that Plato shows us. As Vlastos confesses, the passages in which Socrates says that in these inquisitions he is really searching himself just as pitilessly6 were originally and for a long time taken by him as simply ironic, so unprepared was he for such candid self-revelation. Socrates deflating the ego-balloons of his interlocutors with the rapier of his intelligence at the same time pinks our own egos, and we are all too likely to react defensively by attributing to him not humility, but an egotism equal to or greater than our own.

But Vlastos reveals his own considerable stature in coming to accept that Socrates really did have this aspect of humility, and thereby he arrives at a solution of the paradox which satisfies him. It is that for Socrates "knowledge" is taken in so strong a sense that one can only claim to know when "any further investigation … would be superfluous."7 Like Parmenides, Socrates must have believed that the conclusion of a rational deductive argument should have the "same certainty as that which the devotees of mystic cults would attach to the poems of Orpheus or of some other divinely inspired cult."8 Since Socrates is only human, and realizes that fact, no conclusion of his can be ultimate: not only does one need to keep "reexamining previously reached conclusions, it is not less a matter of hoping for new insights which may crop up right in this next argument and give the answer to some hitherto unanswered problem."9

Holding fast to this view of Socrates as eternal seeker, we can see that in his role of preacher he wants others to discover for themselves; in his role of teacher he offers a method of reaching conclusions and constantly testing and revising them; as critic he demonstrates his method by using it; as agnostic his "'I don't know' is a conscientious objection to the notion that the conclusions of any discussion are secure against further testing by further discussion."10 And thus, Vlastos concludes, it is Socrates the searcher who unifies all the other roles.

This result seems harmless enough, and indeed quite conventional, but is seems to me that Vlastos has not really solved his paradox. If indeed Socrates is thinking along Parmenidean lines, and if his model of knowledge is deduction leading to absolute certainty as powerful as mystical intuition, then it is hard to see just how and why Socrates would regard the conclusions he reaches as forever open to revision; Parmenides surely did not. We might say that Vlastos's mention of the hope of stumbling on new insights points to the corrective deductive arrogance, but what Vlastos gives with one hand, he takes away with the other. For he says later:

The knowledge which he sought, and with such marked success, is that which consists in arranging, whatever information one has in a luminous, perspicuous pattern, so one can see at a glance where run the bright lines of implication and where the dark ones of contradiction. But of the other way of knowing, the empirical way, Socrates had little understanding, and he paid for his ignorance by conceit of knowledge, failing to understand the limitations of his knowledge of fact generally, and of the fact of knowledge in particular.11

This seems a strange assertion, in the face of what has been said before. Instead of being a truly honest seeker, Socrates is now marked by "conceit of knowledge"; instead of hoping for fresh insights, he is now ignorant of empirical knowledge. The solution of the original paradox appears to have generated a new one. Vlastos's description does fit Parmenides, but does it fit Socrates except by cutting him to fit a Parmenidean, if not a Procrustean, bed?

We might make one last try at accepting Vlastos's interpretation by saying that the secret of Socrates is his simultaneous submission to the lofty, uncompromising ideal of logical cognitive certainty and to his recognition of his fallible humanity which forever prevents him from achieving absolute knowledge. But this leads us into an estimate of Socrates' character and his particular human qualities and constitution. That is a very difficult and obscure region, and it will be necessary to deal with it at considerable length, which is done in part 2 below.

How are we to account for this apparent inconsistency in the thought of someone as acute as Vlastos? There are two parts to the answer to this problem, I think. The second, and more profound part will be considered later, but the first and simpler part is Vlastos's easy and unqualified acceptance of the orthodox modern dichotomy between logical and empirical knowledge, exemplified in the quotation above. Even if we were to add in a third mode of knowledge, the mystical mode, which is at least suggested in Vlastos's earlier mention of the "devotees of mystical cults," we have not got enough to work with. Socrates is clearly not a mystic, though he does have reverence for something which may lie beyond reason itself; to a careless eye this reverence might look like mysticism. His clarity of intellect tempers that tendency, just as the latter in turn tempers his logicality so that he is not merely a logician. But does he or does he not recognize the claims of empiricism? Here a great deal depends on what class or classes of empirical facts Vlastos might be thinking of. Simply to speak of "empirical fact" suggests knowledge of the external world, where empiricism has its strongest claim and where its success lends authority to that method.

But in point of fact, Vlastos is talking about Socrates as a moralist, and hence we are not speaking of the external world and of nature, but about qualities like courage, self-control, piety, and so on. Therefore we are not at all in the realm of natural science, and "empirical fact" may have a radically different sense.

The evidence Vlastos brings forward for Socrates' ignorance of empiricism in the moral realm is, curiously enough, scanty. He says: "the bravest man I ever met would surely have flunked the Socratic examination on courage … a man may have great courage, yet make a fool of himself when he opens his mouth to explain what it is that he has."12 And further:

Aunt Rosie is afraid of mice, but she knows quite well that a mouse can do her no great harm.… This is absurd, but it happens; and her knowing that it is absurd does not prevent it from happening either, but only adds shame and guilt to fear. This is not evidence of a high order; it is just a fact that does not square with Socrates' theory.'13

It is almost embarrassing to see these arguments, for surely Vlastos cannot seriously have supposed that Socrates was unaware of these "facts." In the Laches, there is no reason to suppose that Socrates is ignorant that both Laches and Nicias are far from cowardly men in battle, though they wither under his cross-examination. Viastos would seem to be suggesting that Socrates' claim is that unless one can clearly and thoroughly explain oneself verbally, one cannot be courageous in any sense at all, which is a proposition Socrates would surely have repudiated flatly.

The two propositions: (1) "If one cannot give a clear, precise verbal account of courage then one is not courageous" and (2) "If one is courageous then one can give a clear, precise account of courage" are in an abstract way logical equivalents, but perhaps here we are not dealing with abstractions, but instead with the complexities of how people really are. Both (1) and (2) are logically different from (3): "If one can give a clear, precise account of courage then one is courageous," and it almost seems as if Vlastos is thinking of (3) in the Aunt Rosie case, as refuting Socrates. She knows in a way that mice are harmless, but still acts as though they are not; she could give an account of what it would be like to act fearlessly in the presence of mice, yet in her actual behavior she is not courageous.

But Vlastos seems to believe that the empirical cases of Aunt Rosie and the tongue-tied man of courage refute Socrates, though he is oblivious to that since he ignores or does not appreciate facts. Although Aunt Rosie does not appear to figure in the dialogues (the early ones, at least, for Leontius the son of Aglaion in Republic 4, 439E-440A may be her nephew), at the common-sense level it is hard to hold seriously that no Greek, man or woman, sister, cousin, or aunt ever found himself or herself in Aunt Rosie's condition. And if there were in ancient Athens sufferers from fears which run counter to intellectual recognition, then it is very nearly certain that Socrates had known some of them or at least about them. He would not have to be reborn in our own day to discover this "fact."

So we can reasonably assume it was known to him that there are people who hold one proposition, such as "mice are terrifying," with their gut, so to speak, and a contradictory one, "mice are not terrifying," with their head. Yet in the face of this, Socrates still held fast to the doctrine that virtue is knowledge, and that he who knows cannot do otherwise than act consistently with that knowledge. Similarly, he knew experimentally that there are people who can honestly be called "courageous" who can readily be tied in verbal knots when asked to explain what courage is. The courage is in their gut, and they act from that; in contrast, there are highly verbal people who speak brilliantly about courage, but turn tail in the face of real danger.14

It looks, then, as though Vlastos is on very shaky ground in locating the basis of Socrate's supposed error in his blindness or indifference to empirical fact. "What Socrates called 'knowledge' he thought both necessary and sufficient for moral goodness," Vlastos says. "I think it neither."15 The courageous man shows it not to be necessary, and Aunt Rosie tells us it is not sufficient. But what if the solution to the problem of how so perceptive and intelligent a man as Socrates could be so stupid lies rather in Vlastos's own mistake about what knowledge might be? Let us examine this for a little while.

Vlastos recognizes but two kinds of cognition: logical deduction and empirical observation, and for him these are radically distinct. It is clear that he is speaking as a man of his own time, for this dichotomy is nothing more nor less than Hume's distinction between relations of ideas and matters of fact. But despite the contemporary orthodoxy of that dichotomy, is it impossible to ask whether it must be taken as exhaustive and as definitive of knowledge itself? To be confident that we have arrived at a view which is absolute and final is always perilous, and especially perilous when our acceptance of it has become habitual and virtually subliminal. Therefore I suggest that we take a provisional attitude toward this dichotomy, not rejecting it but rather being open to the possibility of modifying it or supplementing it by attention to insights of major thinkers. Certainly for Kant the bare Humean analytic-synthetic division was inadequate, and there is no a priori reason why Plato may not have had insights denied to Hume's Enlightenment mentality.

In the area of morals, in particular, we must tread softly, because it is far less plain and clear than that of natural science. What works well for the latter may be inappropriate for the former, because too crude. It is not easy to say what a moral "fact" might be, in comparison with a sensory fact. If the moral facts are feelings, then they are private and inaccessible to objective observation, not to mention their indefiniteness. If moral facts are moral principles, then they are surely not objectively necessary in anything like the sense that a natural law is, nor are they pragmatically verifiable in the way that, say, the principle of conservation of energy is. And it does not seem to be the case that Vlastos would rest content with the claim that moral principles are no more than subjective and relative.

Aunt Rosie's overt behavior regarding mice is publicly observable, but the inner struggles she experiences are not nor are the guilt and shame brought on her by her fears. The true grounds of a man's courage are also inward; no amount of public observation of his courageous actions will reveal them. What the foundation of his courage in fact is, is for him alone to try to detect internally.

Knowledge is also something ultimately internal; it would be very odd to say that a computer "knows" something in a sense truly comparable to human cognition. There is no way, for instance, to talk of a computer having or lacking a sense of certainty about any of the information stored in it. It is the case that if one accepts the dichotomy that Viastos does, then he slips over toward the assimilation of mind to computer, and is inclined to reject such things as a "sense of certainty" as a dispensable subjective adjunct to knowledge. Yet the analogy does start with our personal awareness of mind, and the sense of certainty is one guide to what knowledge is. In any case, the delicacy of the workings of the mind is extreme, and to date no one has definitively solved the problem of the true relation between mind and overt behavior.

Yet this last is precisely the dark area which Socrates and Plato are exploring. Whether or not one might conclude that they are right in their approach and results, it is advisable to regard what Plato put into the dialogues with respect and restraint, in the expectation that at the very least he and Socrates, being the exceptional thinkers they were, may well have something to say which is important, even if it runs counter to modern epistemological orthodoxy.

This is not the place to offer a full analysis and interpretation of the Socratic-Platonic theory of knowledge, which would of necessity be lengthy. The point that does need to be made, however, it this: the modern view assumes that the mind is a self-contained instrument of cognition, distinct from the rest of the psyche. In empirical knowledge, it is assumed that the mind comes to be inscribed with information from outside which it previously lacked. This schema works nicely with sensory information, at least to a first approximation, but in the case of morality it immediately becomes highly problematical and obscure. Is there a sort of moral "perception" exactly parallel to sensory perception? If morality is a matter of observable fact, are we observing others or ourselves? Self-scrutiny introduces complications beyond those of neutral observation of others.

But suppose that we bracket the assumption that the mind, in its rationally moral operations, is something self-contained and apart. We might then speak of moral knowledge as more a certain state of one's whole being or self, instead of as a particular kind of operation on the part of one portion of the self, the intellect. This is naturally an enormously difficult insight to put clearly and simply into words, and we should not expect to see it laid out neatly in the early dialogues. It can be argued that it does begin to emerge in the middle and late dialogues, which are more Platonic than Socratic, but a case can be made for finding it in a crude and archaic form in Parmenides. In fact, it may be this aspect of Parmenides, not the one Vlastos points to, which links Socrates to him.

If something like this is plausible, then the precise relation and function of logical clarity in the achievement of such a state of being must be explored, and perhaps this is exactly what Socrates is engaged in. For the modern philosopher, logic is just a tool and not anything charged with moral significance, a trend already setting in with Aristotle. But if logical lucidity is something which pervades or can pervade the entire self, then it must be connected with the desired state of being which is cognition in a peculiarly intimate way. To clarify this, we must briefly examine Socratic elenchus.

Vlastos's attitude toward elenchus is ambivalent. I have already quoted above his description of Socrates' rough and merciless treatment of his interlocutors in the agora (or anywhere else), and he adopts Nietzsche's characterization of Socrates as "this despotic logician" with approval. Yet on the other hand, he praises the Socratic method as "among the greatest achievements of humanity,"16 and correctly points out that it "calls not only for the highest degree of mental alertness of which anyone is capable, but also for moral qualities of a high order: sincerity, humility, courage,"17 which surely is not how one would characterize proving theorems in modern symbolic logic. Although in the essay he does not analyze the process of elenchus in detail, he does as editor reprint two chapters on elenchus from Richard Robinson's book, Plato's Earlier Dialectic,18 and the reasonable assumption is that he concurs in general with what Robinson says.

Robinson quite explicitly treats Socrates simply as logician, as even a quick scrutiny of his book will show. He is, he believes, discussing dialectic in general and elenchus in particular as a chapter in the evolution of logic as such.19 Placing himself firmly at the logician's vantage point, he rapidly finds himself led into moral judgments similar to those of Vlastos about Socrates at work. Socrates' claim that it is the logos that is doing the refuting, not he, and that he is simply following the argument, not guiding it toward a concealed, predetermined end, are to Robinson flatly "insincere," and this constitutes "what is known as the Socratic slyness or irony." In fact, "Socrates seems prepared to employ any kind of deception in order to get people into this elenchus."20

Further, elenchus as practiced by Socrates has vicious effects: it bewilders the respondent; it makes its victims "angry with Socrates and ill disposed towards him"; it can make "old friends quarrel"; and it amuses young men so that they "treat it as a game and imitate it in and out of season."21 "Destructive and insincere [it] involved persistent hypocrisy; it showed a negative and destructive spirit; it caused pain to its victims; it thereby made them enemies of Socrates; it thereby brought him to trial …; and so it brought him to his death." In the face of which, unaccountably, Socrates persevered in it.

Why did he? Robinson asks. According to the Apology, it is "to make men better men, to give them more of the highest virtue of a man." Yet in the opinion of many, this technique "would seem a most unsuitable instrument for moral education. They would argue that such logic-chopping cannot be followed by most persons, does not command respect, and at best improves only the agility of the mind while leaving the character untouched."23

Not only that, as logic it is seriously defective. "By addressing itself always to this person here and now, elenchus takes on particularity and accidentalness, which are defects. In this respect it is inferior to the impersonal and universal and rational march of a science axiomatized according to Aristotle's prescription."24 Even Plato eventually came to realize as much, Robinson thinks, for in the middle dialogues "elenchus changes into dialectic, the negative into the positive, pedagogy into discovery, morality into science."25 All of which is for the better, he seems to believe.

These last judgments of Robinson's give us a good guide to what needs to be said about elenchus. In the first place, its particularity is a defect only if we see knowledge as totally impersonal, a metallic instrument brought into play at will, which Robinson, in agreement with modern epistemology, does believe. If, however, we regard knowledge as a moral act of some important kind, then this particularity is instead a merit. For there can be no such thing as an impersonal morality, which is not to say that there is no such thing as a general morality. Personal morality is not subjective relativism, but rather a way in which the individual looks at himself as individual from the perspective of all mankind. This scrutiny must be thoroughly internalized; it is fatal to any genuine morality to see its universality as imposed from outside, through divine or social regulations, for example. Therefore the individual must within himself be able to fuse the personal and particular with the universal into a perfect union. The enormous difficulty of this is testified to by the age-long failure of all save a very few of us to accomplish that fusion.

In knowledge, as Socrates and Plato saw it, precisely the same requirement must be met, and equal difficulties are to be encountered. When Socrates discovered his mission of convincing others that they did not know what they thought they knew, what he discovered was that in most or all people there is a split between the self or ego and what the ego thinks it possesses in the way of knowledge. That is, the ego takes its knowledge to be something it has, not something it is. Knowledge on this view, which is the modern one, is like money: one has it or one doesn't. When one has it, one can either retain it or spend it, but in either case it is something in itself, residing loosely in a pocket and not integral with the person.

The effect of this is to allow the ego to bloat in proportion to the amount of coin possessed. Those who think they know in this fashion, regarding themselves as essentially separate from the knowledge they own, have no check on this bloating of the ego; cognitive wealth is used as a screen against the shock of any assault on the swollen ego. The result is a kind of immorality of cognition, akin to the pharisaical pride of those who take themselves to be spiritually and morally worthier than their fellows. This application of moral terms to cognition undoubtedly rings peculiarly in modern ears, but that is not the question: the issue is whether it would have sounded odd to Socrates.

If we can accept, then, that for Socrates there is a morality of cognition, it seems at least plausible that there is also a cognition of morality. That is not, as it may appear, a mere play on words; if knowledge is indeed something which at its highest and best must and does engage the whole soul, the same is true of morality. Therefore at its peak each becomes the other: the true is identical with the good. We seem, therefore, to have come in sight of what Socrates and Plato were trying to say in identifying knowledge and virtue, and it appears that Vlastos himself generated his paradox by an inadequate understanding of Socratic elenchus.


Thus far we have been talking about one aspect of what Vlastos regards as Socrates' "failure"; it is the intellectual side. Vlastos believes that Socrates was wrong about knowledge being necessary and sufficient for moral goodness, because, in Vlastos's eyes, he is wrong about knowledge. But the argument has been that it is Vlastos who is wrong about knowledge, not Socrates, and wrong because his view is too limited. Since it is, Vlastos says that Socrates owed his courage in the face of death to something "more akin to religious faith."26 The argument here has not had to resort to faith, but now we will show in what sense Vlastos's appeal to religion may be indicative.

He has an even graver charge than failure of knowledge to lay at Socrates' door. Behind this "failure of knowledge," according to Vlastos, "lay a failure of love."27 Even though Socrates does honestly care for the souls of others,

the care is limited and conditional. If men's souls are to be saved, they must be saved his way. And when he sees they cannot, he watches them go down the road to perdition with regret but without anguish. Jesus wept for Jerusalem. Socrates warns Athens, scolds, exhorts it, condemns it. But he has no tears for it.… One feels there is a last zone of frigidity in the soul of the great erotic; had he loved his fellows more, he could hardly have laid on them the burdens of his "despotic logic," impossible to be borne.28

The pure logician may not see this as a particularly overwhelming charge; the technical faults he attributes to Socrates' reasoning may loom much larger. But Vlastos is more than a logician, and it is clear that he himself is agonizingly torn between his love for Socrates and this terrible judgment on him. We should attend to what Vlastos is saying.

But is he right? Indeed, Socrates does constantly warn, scold, exhort, and condemn Athens, but is his heart frigid? Does he feel no anguish, because he weeps no tears? Can we take that as definitive evidence that he felt nothing which in others would have taken the form of tears? Here we are necessarily in the uncertain realms of interpretation, where the kind of lantern one carries makes a great deal of difference to what one sees. Therefore we must examine Vlastos's perspective as best we can.

One thing should be clear from the first part of this paper: because Vlastos has difficulty construing the Socratic idea of knowledge as a function of one's whole soul, he in fact is tending, like the general public of Athens, to assimilate him to the sophists. They were men for whom the intellect and its activities were everything, and the rest, including love for one's native land and fellow men, nothing. But Socrates was not, like them, rootless; his intelligence was deeply and fruitfully rooted in the rich soil of feeling.

That may seem an extravagant statement to make, since when one reads the dialogues, one is blinded by Socrates' verbal and intellectual brilliance. Like the man who has escaped from the cave, in the Republic, one is at first unable to percieve the reality of this other side of Socrates. And if one becomes firmly persuaded that Socrates is first and foremost a logician, then one is unlikely ever to notice an apparently casual remark such as the one Socrates drops passingly into his comments to Phaedrus about the interpretation of myths and legends. He says:

Consequently I don't bother about such things, but accept the current beliefs about them and direct my inquiries, as I have just said, rather to myself, to discover whether I really am a more complex creature and more puffed up with pride than Typhon, or a simpler, gentler being whom heaven has blessed with a quiet, un-Typhonic nature. By the way, isn't this the tree we were making for?29

If we read this passage unwarily and insensitively, we are easily misled by the cool, even bantering tone of what precedes it and the offhandedness of the final sentence. Socrates' concern with self-knowledge seems a distant, abstract relation to himself, as though he were some kind of impersonal zoologist of the soul. But this is precisely the way someone who felt very deeply but who had no interest in wearing his heart on his sleeve would express himself—making a confession and then diverting attention from it. Vlastos has admitted that for a long while he took Socrates' claims to be truly inquiring and to be himself at the mercy of the dialectic as mere artful irony, but has come to see them as genuine self-revelation. Similarly here. What Socrates is revealing is a genuine anguish over comprehending himself rightly, an anguish which is likely to be even more terrible than anguish over others felt by someone who sees himself as morally righteous and the other headed for perdition.

This self-anguish is in fact of a piece with true anguish over others; when one feels this way about himself, then one's relations with others are radically altered by that feeling. Through it, one is most intimately connected with the confusions and the conscious or unconscious sufferings of others. Kierkegaard warned, scolded, and condemned Copenhagen as Socrates did Athens; surely no one would accuse him of coldness toward others, and it is just this self-anguish, revealed on in his private journals, which provides his link to other people and also bound Kierkegaard to Socrates.

Vlastos seems almost to be attributing to Socrates something resembling the twentieth-century attitude expressed by Ernst Junger, in his essay Uber den Schmerz.30 Jünger held that in our time (he was writing in the 1920s) man has moved into what he called "a second and coldest consciousness," forced to do so for self-preservation in the face of a disintegrating world and the loss of values.

Instead of using his personal judgment as derived from his own experiences, wisdom, and values, instead of trying to resolve his situation independently in his unique fashion … and in some way acknowledging the legitimacy of his suffering and unhappiness, he will analyze himself by means of pre-established psychological and sociological categories—he will manipulate himself as a psycho- or socio-clinical case. Thus he makes himself into an object visualized by an alien transpersonal eye.31

This is the contemporary logico-scientific way, but it is not the Socratic way, even though Socrates too lived in an age of disintegration.

True, Socrates did hide behind a mask; so did Kierkegaard. Behind that mask there is no frozen zone, no "coldest consciousness." But was there love? It is very difficult to deal with Vlastos's charge since he makes no effort to tell us what he apprehends love, as he uses that term, to be. It might seem self-contradictory to accuse the "great erotic" of lacking love, but Vlastos does make one revelatory statement: "The best insight in this essay—that Socrates' ultimate failure is a failure in love—grew out of what [he] learned about love" from his wife.32 The statement is tantalizing, and it would be wrong to wring it mercilessly for it is enormously touching. But it may be significant that Vlastos says his knowledge of love grew out of a conjugal situation. Certainly that is highly un-Greek; the whole of ancient Greek culture, as Vlastos knows, went against the idealization of that sort of relationship, though love in marriage was not unknown. Achilles and Patroclus are more germane models.

But there are special factors in love between man and woman which are normally absent from other forms of love: not the sexual aspect, for in Athens that could be satisfied between males, but rather a special kind of tenderness which flowers between male and female. If one were to look for that kind of tenderness, then, in Socrates going about his daily activities, one surely would not find it. Such tenderness is the precious gift of woman, and it is not a significant factor in a masculine culture such as that of ancient Greece. But I wish to argue that there is another kind of tenderness, and it is one which Socrates does possess. It is a tenderness for others simply as human beings, laboring in their human condition. If Socrates does lay on them a "despotic logic," he lays it also on himself, and it is not impossible to be borne, for he bears it.

Some further clues as to Vlastos's conception of love can be found in an essay postdating "The Paradox of Socrates" by over ten years.33 Here Vlastos cites with approval Aristotle's definition of philia, which in its strongest sense can be translated "love," as "wishing for someone what you believe to be good things—wishing this not for your own sake but for his—and acting so far as you can to bring them about," which is on its face an essentially altruistic view of philia. When Vlastos applies this definition to the Lysis, which has philia as its subject, he concludes that Socratic love is at its heart egoistic. That perspective, he says,

becomes unmistakable when Socrates, generalizing, argues that "if one were in want of nothing, one would feel no affect,… and he who felt no affection would not love." The lover Socrates has in view seems positively incapable of loving others for their own sake,34

which, for Vlastos, is the central characteristic of love truly conceived.35

Leaving aside the question frequently raised as to the egoism of Aristotle's own view of philia if we examine it whole, since he says that friendship and love for others derives from friendship and love for oneself, are we entitled to dismiss the Socratic position so offhandedly? In the first place, we cannot take Socrates' words which Vlastos quotes as necessarily expressing what Socrates and/or Plato did hold with regard to friendship; Vlastos does not appear to understand the Lysis very well. But further, one thing Plato (and undoubtedly Socrates also) knew and knew well: whenever one is dealing with one's feelings, there is immense latitude for error. Professed altruism is all too often a socially acceptable mask for unconscious egotism. He who proclaims his concern for others may be either sentimentalizing—as in the case of the "altruist" who finds it far easier to love mankind as an abstraction than to love the sweaty, cantankerous, ignorant, concrete individuals who compose it—and sentimentality is a kind of caressing one's own emotions; or else he may be projecting onto the others some unadmitted internal anxieties and problems of his own, too afraid to search and cleanse his own soul but too guilty not to attack the problems in some impersonal guise.

The antidote to this sort of error lies in what Iris Murdoch says (drawing on some suggestions by Simone Weil):

The love which brings the right answer [to moral problems] is an exercise of justice and realism and really looking. The difficulty is to keep the attention fixed upon the real situation and to prevent it returning surreptitiously to the self with consolations of self-pity, resentment, fantasy, and despair.… Of course virtue is good habit and dutiful action. But the background condition of such good habit and such action, in human beings, is a just mode of vision and a good quality of consciousness. It is a task to come to see the world as it is.36

In other words, sentimentality or objectified self-concern can blind us; only a tough-minded clarity of vision of what is, as it is—and that must needs include ourselves—can serve us rightly in sound moral action as based on love. To attain that clarity is the task set us by Socrates, who first set it to himself.

But would not genuine love for others require that we not always lay on them what we ourselves bear, since they may be unable to follow us? Vlastos cites the example of Jesus weeping for Jerusalem, but Jesus also said, "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you." The evidence of the ages might seem to tell us that this also is something many, perhaps most, human beings have in fact found it impossible to bear, yet I doubt that Vlastos would therefore say that it did not show love. To command others to love appears a paradox, since love cannot be commanded. The Socratic way is not command; his whole method, as Vlastos himself admits, rests on a "vision of man as a mature, responsible being, claiming to the fullest extent his freedom to make his own choice between right and wrong, not only in action, but in judgment."37 That is well and truly spoken, and it characterizes Socrates himself; it is not a logic that he confronts others with, to their discomfiture: it is a man who embodies these qualities, not a mere vision, in the hope that they can summon the strength to be likewise. When they fail, he sees them fail with regret, of course, but also with anguish at their failure to be free.

Love, if it is to be love, must always leave the other free or potentially free, whatever the power and the intimacy of the bond, and the Socratic way does this, preserving the vitality and the personality of freedom, whatever the seductions of the cold, "impersonal and universal and rational march of a science axiomatized according to Aristotle's prescription," which is indeed logical despotism.

The concrete human personality is always somehow greater than abstract logic, and therefore must not lose itself therein; this is the lesson of Socratic elenchus. Euthyphro commending himself for being so elevated in his thinking that he can pursue justice even though it requires that he prosecute his father (Euthyphro 3E-4B), and the clownish sophists of the Euthydemus illustrate two ways in which excessive regard for logic can dehumanize. But personality revenges itself inexorably, because such logicizing of oneself turns out to be the tool of ego, hiding behind the mask of logical impersonality.

The paradox is that reason as suprahuman must be reverenced if we are to be truly human; the Euthyphro tells us that too. But the reverence must not be for something construed as seated in a far-off empyrean realm, like the gods whom Euthyphro worships, but rather for reason which is integral to all of us as human; a one-story universe must replace the two-story one and the divine be secularized within man himself. So man is both man in the sense of an individual personality, and something more than man: the locus of reason. In reverencing reason, man reverences himself also, and this reverence is true humility, Socratic humility.

So Socrates could honestly say that he was following where the argument led and that logos was doing the refuting. At the same time his reverence for reason allowed full scope to his own personality in all its aspects, because its chastening presence prevented domination by an inflated ego. The mystery of how one's personality can reach its fullest flower only when one accepts something greater than self as an integral part of that self is not one soluble by Humean methods.

Such a person is a remarkable one, and a sign of this is the love which Plato himself bore for Socrates. He felt the full power and complexity of Socrates' personality, and loved him. But no one can be truly loved who cannot love; it is impossible to believe that Plato would not have sensed the ice in Socrates' heart, if Vlastos were right, and perhaps admired him but refrained from loving him. It is entirely trivial and beside the point that Socrates never wept, so far as we know, though this strikes Vlastos as exemplary evidence of Socrates' defect. That is merely a matter of an individual style, and Plato has shown us Socrates'. It is flatly false that tears are the only mark of genuine affection; Socrates did in fact lay down his life not only for himself but also for others, and there is no greater love.

Nor is his educational technique evidence of lack of love. This passage, though it was written with no reference to Socrates whatsoever, still sums up the quality of the Socratic teaching style beautifully:

After all, we exist in love and anger, so let us admit it; only let the love be proper to the occasion, a sending out of tenderness from an inviolable soul, not a yearning for a completion out of the other; and let the anger be a "sharp, fierce reaction: sharp discipline, rigour; fierce, fierce severity" to rouse the child and bring him to his soul's pride.38"

There is love at the heart of Socrates, much love, but it is just this marriage of tenderness with ferocity and rigor; it is love without softness. It is a mistake to measure him by a New Testament model, as Vlastos evidently does. Closer and truer models are Homer's virile Achilles and wily Odysseus, both of whom loved in characteristically Greek ways, but still Socrates is always uniquely himself.

Nor is it just to refract him through the prisms of any academic categories, be they Humean or Parmenidean. That is learned idiocy. The special glory of Plato's portrait is that it gives us a human being, and categories are made for human beings, not human beings for categories. We must approach that human being as we should any other, and as Socrates himself encountered his contemporaries: unsparingly active and searching, but still with a tempering reverence for what it is to be a human being, in our own person or in that of any other. The greatest hubris of all is to try to reduce his stature to our own: Socrates will always be the test of us, not we of him.


1 Gregory Vlastos, ed., The Philosophy of Socrates: A Collection of Critical Essays (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1971), pp. 1-21.

2 Ibid., p. 1.

3 Ibid., p. 3.

4 Ibid., p. 4.

5 Ibid., p. 9.

6 He cites Protagoras 348C and Charmides 166C-D and 165B.

7 Vlastos, p. 10.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid., p. 11.

10 Ibid., p. 12.

11 Ibid., p. 16.

12 Ibid., p. 15.

13 Ibid., pp. 15-16.

14 Though the case was not available to Plato, one might think of Aristotle abandoning Athens after Alexander's death, having written in the Nicomachean Ethics that the greatest and noblest form of courage is to endure in the face of death, justifying his flight as depriving Athens of an opportunity to "sin twice against philosophy."

15 Vlastos, p. 15.

16 Ibid., p. 20.

17 Ibid.

18 2d ed. (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1953).

19 See, for example, p. vi in Plato's Earlier Dialectic, which is not reprinted by Vlastos. Hereafter, page references will be both to the chapters as reprinted and to the entire second edition as cited in the preceding note; references to the former will be placed in parentheses following the references to the latter.

20 Ibid., pp. 8-9 (79-81).

21 Ibid., pp. 9-10 (81-82).

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid., p. 14 (86-87).

24 Ibid., p. 16 (89).

25 Ibid., p. 19 (93).

26 Vlastos, p. 16.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid., pp. 16-17.

29Phaedrus 230A; R. Hackforth trans.

30 A brilliant concise account of Junger's analysis can be found in Erich Kahler, The Tower and the Abyss. An Inquiry Into the Transformation of the Individual (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1957), pp. 85-93.

31 Ibid., pp. 91-92.

32 Vlastos, preface, n.p.

33"The Individual as Object of Love in Plato," in Gregory Vlastos, Platonic Studies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), which he notes began as an address in 1957.

34Platonic Studies, pp. 8-9.

35 Some additional light may be shed by Vlastos's contribution to a volume which he coedited with R. B. Y. Scott in 1936, entitled Towards the Christian Revolution (Chicago and New York: Willet, Clark & Co). All the contributors apparently felt that in the social turmoil of the 1930s the time was ripe for the actualization of Christianity in society; Vlastos's essay concludes: "The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent ye, and believe the gospel," a note sounded by various other contributors.

It is the ethic of Christian love which Vlastos says needs to be instituted, which he interprets as the ethic of the cooperative community. Plato's presumed disdain for and dismissal of the lower classes is contrasted with the Biblical insistence on their superior worth. Scorning a merely sentimental notion of love, he says: "The sense of love is genuine when it refers to that cooperative community in which my labor is necessary to your interest and your labor to mine. The fact of love is not the consciousness of love, any more than the fact of life is the consciousness of life. If love exists at all, it exists as a material activity: the material interaction of separate beings recognizing each other's interests and seeking common fulfillment." (p. 59.) He is using "material" in the sense of "economic," as Marx did, but perhaps it is ironic that if we substitute "educational" we have a not inaccurate description of Socratic inquiry.

36The Sovereignty of Good (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970), p. 91. "Good habits and dutiful actions" are, of course, what Aristotle recommends and takes as basic; it is Plato, however, who sees the true "background condition."

37 Vlastos, Philosophy of Socrates, p.21.

38 G. H. Bantock, Freedom and Authority in Education: A Criticism of Modern Cultural and Educational Assumptions (London: Faber and Faber, 1970), p. 177. The inner quotation is from D. H. Lawrence.

Gregory Viastos (lecture date 1986)

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SOURCE: "Socrates's Rejection of Retaliation," in Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher, Cornell University Press, 1991, pp. 179-99.

[In the following excerpt from a lecture originally delivered in 1986, Vlastos describes the aspects of ancient Greek morality related to retaliation and the concept that harming one's enemy or social inferior is acceptable. He traces Greek attitudes toward enemies through ancient mythology and literature in order to demonstrate the significance of Socrates's view that we should never do an injustice, specifically in retaliation for an injustice done to us. Vlastos goes on to delineate and discuss the five Socratic principles related to injustice.]

If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness.

(Matt. 6:23)

In the last and most famous of his Theses on Feuerbach Marx observes: "The philosophers have done no more than interpret the world. The point, however, is to change it." Substitute "morality" for "world" and the observation would be true of almost all the leading philosophers of the West. Moralists as powerfully innovative as are Aristotle, Hume, and Kant take the morality into which they are born for granted. The task they set themselves is only to excogitate its rationale. It does not occur to them to subject its content to critical scrutiny, prepared to question norms ensconced in it which do not measure up to their rational standards. But there have been exceptions, unnoticed by Marx, and of these Socrates is the greatest. Proceeding entirely from within the morality of his own time and place, he nevertheless finds reason to stigmatize as unjust one of its most venerable, best established, rules of justice.

By the morality of a society I understand those norms of right and wrong, rules of conduct or excellences of character, publicly acknowledged within it, whose function it is to foster human well-being. The sense of justice centers in the concern that those norms be applied impartially. So if in a given society we were to find them habitually observed in a discriminatory way—applied strictly for the benefit of some and loosely, if at all, for that of others—we would know that to this extent the morality of the society is defective. When we scrutinize the morality of ancient Greece with this in mind two large areas of such deficiency come into view. (1) The application of its moral norms is grossly discriminatory in conduct towards personal enemies. (2) It is no less so, though for different reasons and in different ways, in the conduct of citizens towards their social inferiors—women, aliens, slaves. Coming to Scorates' practical moral teaching with this in mind we can see in good perspective the most strikingly new thing about it: its root-and-branch rejection of that first form of discrimination. And we can also see the limits of its innovative thrust: it has nothing to say against the second. Revolutionary on the first, it is conformist on the second.

To assess justly Socrates' contribution to the Greek sense of justice we must treat it impartially, recognizing its achievement without disguising its failure. Accordingly, though in this book I speak only of the former, I shall not lend it a false grandeur by concealing the latter. There is no evidence that Socrates' moral vision was exempt from that blindspot in the Athenian civic conscience which made it possible for Demosthenes, addressing a lot-selected court, to put compassion at the forefront of his city's ethos,2 yet no less possible for his contemporary, Lycurgus, addressing a similar court, to declare that it is "most just and democratic …"to make it mandatory that court evidence by slaves should be given under torture.3 To subject citizens to such treatment would be unthinkable in the Athenian judicial system.4 Nowhere in our sources is there the slightest indication that this and other forms of grossly discriminatory conduct towards slaves, sanctioned by the prevailing moral code, drew any protest from Socrates. His critique of the code leaves institutional morality untouched. It is directed solely to that area of conduct which falls entirely within the limits of the habitual expectations sustained by the institutional framework.


Harming one's enemy to the full extent permitted by public law is not only tolerated, but glorified, in Greek moralizing. The sentiment is ubiquitous.5 Solon (fr. I Diehl), aspiring to "good repute among all men," prays that that he may be "sweet to friends, bitter to enemies." Medea, scorning the role of feminine weakling, determined to be as strong as any male, vows that she will be "harsh to foes, gracious to friends, for such are they whose life is most glorious."6 In Plato's Meno Socrates' interlocutor builds it into the formula meant to capture the essence of manly excellence:

TI Plato, M. 71E: "Socrates, if you want to know what manly virtue is, it is this: to be able to conduct the city's affairs doing good to friends and evil to enemies, while taking care not to be harmed oneself,"

Isocrates, mouthing traditional commonplaces, counsels Demonicus:

T2 Isocrates, To Dem. 26: Consider it as disgraceful to be outdone by enemies in inflicting harm, as by friends in conferring benefits.

If one is nurtured in this norm, what constraints on harming a foe would one accept? The authorities which recommend it lay down none. Consider Pindar, golden voice of conventional wisdom:

T3 Pindar, 2 Pyth. 83-5: Let me love him who loves me, / But on a foe as foe I will descend, wolf-like, / In ever varying ways by crooked paths.8

The image—wolflike, stealthy, crooked attack—conveys the thought that underhanded malice, normally contemptible, would be in order here. If you were to deceive your enemy, corrupt his slave, seduce his wife, ruin his reputation by slander, you would not be ashamed of it, you could be proud of it. Are there then no limits to be observed in deviating from decent conduct at your foe's expense? So long as you keep the public law, traditional morality lays down none,8 except those set by the lex talionis, the ancient doctrine of retaliation.

The metaphor through which this notion grips the moral imagination of the Greeks is the repayment of a debt: verbs for "paying" … and "paying back" … are the ones regularly used to express it. The idea is that if you do someone a wrong or a harm, you have thereby incurred a debt and must discharge it by suffering the same sort of evil yourself—a wrong or harm "such as" (tale, hence talio9) to repay what you did to him. At first blush this extension of the money-debt resists generalization. If you had stolen one of your neighbor's sheep, and he were then to steal it back, his action could be plausibly pictured as making you repay a surreptitious loan you had previously extracted from him. But what if you had killed one of his sheep, and he were now to retaliate by spitefully killing one of yours? What semblance of reason would there be in thinking that he thereby secures repayment? Does he get back his sheep by killing one of yours, leaving its carcass on the hillside to be picked off by jackals? But this is not to say that he gets nothing from the retaliatory act: he may get something he prizes much more than a sheep.10 The passionate desire for revenge—i.e. to harm another person for no reason other than that he or she harmed one in the first place—is as blind to calculations of utility as to every other rational consideration. One may get all the greater satisfaction from an act of pure revenge, freed completely from concern for restitution. And this, precisely, is the raison d'etre of the lex talionis. it aims to put a lid on the extravagance of passion by stipulating that for any given harm no greater may be inflicted in return.

T4 Exodus 21:24-5: … eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

If someone has knocked out one of your eyes you might well feel like knocking out both of his—or more, if he had more.11 The rule says: Only one.

This constraint on revenge by a limit of equivalences so commends the talio to the moral sense of the Greeks that when their first philosophers come to think of the natural universe as an ordered world, a cosmos,12 they project on it their idea of justice by picturing the grand periodicities of nature as enacting cycles of retaliatory retribution. In Anaximander's famous fragment (T5), the hot and the dry, encroaching upon the cold and wet in the summer, must "pay" for their "injustice" by suffering in return the like fate in the winter, when the cold and wet make converse aggression upon the erstwhile aggressors, completing one retaliatory cycle, to start another in endless succession:

T5 Anaximander, fr. I (Diels-Kranz): For they render justice and repayment to one another in accordance with the ordering of time.

So too the first recorded definition of "justice" identifies it with to antipeponthos, whose literal force, "to suffer in return," is lost in the unavoidably lame translation, "reciprocity":

T6 Aristotle, Nic. Eth. 1132b21-7: Some believe that reciprocity … simply is justice. So the Pythagoreans thought. For they defined "justice" as "reciprocity."

Ascribing this archaic formula to Pythagorean philosophers, Aristotle does not accept it as an adequate definition of "justice." But he concurs with its sentiment,13 citing Hesiod in its support:

T7 Hesiod, fr. 174 Rzach: For if one suffered what one did, straight justice would be done.…

From the many testimonies to the currency of this notion I pick one from the Oresteia.

T8 Aeschylus, Choephoroi 309-14: "'For hostile word let hostile word / Be fulfilled …, 'Justice cries aloud / As she collects the debt.… / 'Let homicidal blow the homicidal / Blow repay.… Let him who did suffer in return…,' / The thrice-venerable tale declares."

Aeschylus reaffirms the hallowed tradition of his people that to satisfy justice the wrongdoer must be made to suffer in return the evil he or she has done another. But as the action moves on, it becomes apparent that the maxim leaves the poet gravely troubled. As Orestes drags his mother offstage to kill her the poet makes him say:

T9 Aeschylus, Choephoroi 930: "Since you killed whom you ought not, now suffer what you ought not.…14

Why so? If the talio is quintessentially just, why should not Orestes be saying instead, "Since you killed whom you ought not, now suffer what you ought?" Orestes is in a bind. Instructed by Apollo that Clytemnestra should be made to pay with her own blood for the family blood she had spilled, he is still unable to shake off the horror of matricide.

In the Electra of Euripides we see him in the same bind. He remonstrates with Electra: "How shall I kill her who bore me and brought me up?" When she retorts, "Just as she killed your father and mine," he goes along but without conviction, railing against the "folly" of Apollo, "who prophesied that I should kill a mother, whom I ought not to kill."15

For further evidence that the rule of just repayment elicits less than full conviction from the conscience of those who invoke it, consider Euripides' Medea. Though her object is to extract from Jason "just repayment with God's help," she nonetheless reflects that "she has dared a most impious deed." The modern reader cannot but wonder how she could have brought herself to believe that the grisly crimes by which she retaliates against Jason are "just repayment" for his infidelity. By what stretch of the imagination could the murder of their two children along with that of his new bride qualify as wrongs "such as" his wrong to her? Yet neither the Chorus nor any of the principals—Medea herself, or Jason, or Creon—take the least notice of the grotesque disproportion of what she does to what she suffered. To anyone who protested the mismatch she would doubtless say that the pain Jason had caused her was as great as the one she is bent on causing him. Euripides makes us see that when revenge is accepted as just in principle the limit of just equivalences turns out in practice to be an all-too-flexible fiction.

We see more of the same when we turn from myth in the tragedians to tragic history in Thucydides. The people who filled the theatre to see the Medea in 431 B.C. reassemble on the Pnyx four years later to debate a more infamous proposal than any ever previously moved in the Athenian Assembly:19 that rebellious Mytilene, now subdued, should be exterminated, all its adult males executed without trial, and all its women and children sold into slavery. In the speech for the proposal Cleon invokes justice on its behalf20 and, as we might expect, it is the justice of the talio:

TIO Thucydides 3.40.7: "Coming as close as possible21 in thought to what you felt when they made you suffer, when you would have given anything to crush them, now pay them back.… "22

To justice so debased Diodotus, the spokesman for decency, makes no appeal. He lets Cleon have it all to himself, turning to cool expediency instead. Conceding that the Athenians have been wronged, Diodotus wastes no words haggling over what would or would not be an equivalent return.23 He asks them to reflect instead that they have more to lose than gain by an action which would bear down as harshly on the Mytilenean demos as on its oligarchic masters, prime movers of the revolt. He argues that such indiscriminate terror will lose Athens her best asset in the war—the sympathy of the democrats in each of her subject cities. He does come around to justice near the end of his address, warning the Athenians that if they were to destroy the demos who had forced the city's surrender when arms were put into its hands, "they would wrong their benefactors" (3.47.3). But this is not the justice of the talio. As to that, he implies, the Athenians would be better off as its victims than as its executors:

TI I Thucydides 3.47.5: "I think it more conducive to the maintenance of our empire to allow ourselves to suffer wrong … rather than destroy, however justly …, those whom we ought not to destroy."24

The flaw in the justice of the talio shows up with startling clarity in the lightning flash of a crisis in which sane moral counsel is most desperately needed.

The sense of justice—which should have been the best resource of decent Athenians in their resistance to the promptings of blind, unreasoning, hatred—here strengthens the very force they seek to contain. Instead of giving Diodotus the backing he needs, the justice of the talio is a bludgeon in Cleon's hand.25

How was it then that the lalio had won and kept so long its commanding place in the moral code? Because it had been confused with one or more of three closely related, though entirely distinct, concepts: restitution, self-defense, punishment. The most widespread and, superficially, the most plausible of the three confusions is the one with restitution. If retaliation were restitution in principle, it would be paradigmatically just: what could be more just than the repayment of a debt? As for self-defense, at first blush it looks like a far cry from retaliation, but it will not if we notice that amuein, antamunein, "to ward off from oneself," "to defend oneself were also used to mean "to retaliate," and reflect that when retaliation is the expected response to unjust aggression, failure to retaliate will be construed as weakness, inviting further assaults. By easy extension the preemptive strike becomes acceptable as righteous self-defense: those who see themselves as likely objects of attack feel justified in cracking down before the anticipated aggression has occurred.

In the case of punishment the linguistic bond is still more potent. It is positively tyrannical throughout the archaic period. Down to the last third of the fifth century, timoria, whose original and always primary sense is "vengeance," is the word for "punishment." The specialized word for the latter, … ("chastening," "disciplining"—with no collateral use for "taking vengeance"), does not acquire currency until we reach the prose of Thucydides and Antiphon. Earlier, as for example in Herodotus,27 language traps one into using "vengeance" …, even when "punishment" is exactly what one means.28 What is the difference? Rightly understood punishment is the application of a penalty …, that is to say, of a norm-mandated sanction of norms. As such, it differs from revenge in three closely connected ways.29

  1. While inflicting a harm on the wrongdoer is common to punishment and revenge, doing him a wrong is not: to punish a wrongdoer is not to wrong him. To the return of wrong for wrong, which is normal in revenge, punishment gives absolutely no quarter: those who apply the penalty are not licensed wrongdoers, but instruments of norm-enforcement, agents of justice.
  2. To give relief to the resentful feelings of victims is not, as in revenge, the dominant motivation of punishment, whose principal aim is not to do evil to the evildoer but to implement the community's concern that its norms should be observed and hence that norm-violators should be called to account by being made to suffer the lawful penalty.
  3. Hatred for the wrongdoer, the core-sentiment in revenge, need not be present in punishment; those who apply the penalty to him should be impelled not by malice, but by a sense of duty in loyalty to the norms which he has breached and by fellow-feeling for the victims of wrongful harm. This motivation is entirely consistent with fellow-feeling for the wrongdoer himself: since he has alienated himself from his fellows by violating the common norms, it is for his own good, no less than that of others, that he be reunited with the community by submitting to the pain the community mandates for norm-violators.

The distinction of punishment from revenge must be regarded as one of the most momentous of the conceptual discoveries ever made by humanity in the course of its slow, tortuous, precarious, emergence from barbaric tribalism. With characteristic impartiality Plato assigns the discovery not to his personal hero, but to Protagoras, Socrates' arch-rival. We see it in the Great Speech Plato gives the sophist in the debate with Socrates in the Protagoras.30 In support of his thesis that virtue is teachable, Protagoras in that speech propounds a comprehensive theory of the origins of culture which views all cultural institutions, including morality, as inventions through which men win the struggle for existence against wild beasts. He constructs a consequentionalist argument for the universal distribution of the "political art": all men must have been endowed with sensitiveness to moral norms ("share in shame and justice") else humanity would have lost that struggle: it would not have survived. Viewing punishment in this light, he explains it as a device designed to promote deterrence from wrongdoing:

T12 Plato, Pr. 324A-B: "No one punishes …32 wrongdoers putting his mind on what they did and for the sake of this-that they did wrong—not unless he is taking mindless vengeance …, like a savage brute. One who undertakes to punish rationally does not do so for the sake of the wrongdoing, which is now in the past—for what has been done cannot be undone—but for the sake of the future, that the wrongdoing shall not be repeated, either by him or by the others who see him punished.… One punishes … for the sake of deterrence.…"

Assuming34 that this is a fair, if harshly abbreviated, statement of the Protagorean view, we must admit that the theory on which it predicates its analysis of the rationale of punishment is indefensibly lopsided. It invokes only deterrence to justify the practice. And this is clearly wrong. For while the reference of a penalty is indeed strongly prospective—to discourage recurrence of the offense—it must be also no less strongly retrospective, if it is to be just: it must apply to the offender the harm which he deserves to suffer under the norms because of what he did. We punish a man justly for a given breach of the rules only if we have reason to believe that he is guilty of it—that it is he, and no one else, who did commit just that offense. To visit that punishment on a surrogate who could serve as well its exemplary purpose would be the height of injustice, though the deterrent effect could be as great if the false accusation were well concealed. So pace Protagoras we do, and should, punish a wrongdoer "for the sake of what he did": our theory must recognize the retributive nature of the practice which we accept for the sake of its deterrent effect. Hence Protagoras' theory of the social function of punishment is unacceptable. It cites, correctly enough, deterrence as the raison d'etre of the institution, but fails to see that the institution itself is unavoidably retributive.

But even so, though working with a defective theory, Protagoras succeeds brilliantly in sorting out punishment from revenge—he distinguishes perfectly the rational application of a penalty, designed to reinforce compliance with norms aiming at the common benefit, from the indulgence of anarchic vengeful passion. He disentangles what had been hopelessly jumbled for millennia in the past and was to remain entangled in popular thought for millennia to come. A leading Victorian jurist, James FitzJames Stephen, was still declaring, in 1883, that criminal justice is legally sanctioned revenge: "the criminal law," he claimed, "stands to the passion of revenge in much the same relation as marriage to the sexual instinct."35 This articulates what many people believed at the time, and still believe today. That punishment is institutionalized revenge is still a popular view, voiced even by some philosophers,36 and not without support from the dictionary: for "revenge" the O.E.D. gives "inflict punishment or exact retribution."

But after giving Protagoras full credit for having been two and a half millennia ahead of his time, we must still observe that neither does he undertake to give revenge its long overdue come-uppance. It is one thing to distinguish it clearly from punishment, quite another to discern that when thus distinguished revenge is morally repugnant. The first step by no means assures the second, as we can see in Aristotle. He draws the distinction in a way which leaves the moral acceptability of revenge untouched.37 He still puts harming enemies morally on a par with helping friends:

T13 Arist. Top. 113a2-3: Doing good to friends and evil to enemies are not contraries: for both are choiceworthy and belong to the same disposition.…

He still exalts retaliation as "just and noble":

T14 Arist. Rhet. 1367al9-20: It is noble… to avenge oneself on one's enemies and not to come to terms with them: for retaliation … is just. … and the just is noble, and not to put up with defeat is courage.

Worse yet, Aristotle takes the desire for revenge to be a constant in human nature, as deep-seated and ineradicable in the psyche as is the emotion of anger. Defining "anger" as "desire to inflict retaliatory pain,"38 he identifies the emotion of anger with vengeful impulse, strangely overlooking the absurd consequences of the supposed identity: what sense would it make to hold that when one is angry at oneself (a common enough occurrence) one desires to be revenged on oneself and that when one is angry at one's child (also common) one desires to be revenged on it?

Admittedly T13 and T14 do not come from Aristotle's ethical writings and do not express original moral insights of his own. But they do show that his creative moral thought does not transcend the traditional sentiment in which the justice of the lalio is enshrined. Great moralist though he is, Aristotle has not yet got it through his head that if someone has done a nasty thing to me this does not give me the slightest moral justification for doing the same nasty thing, or any nasty thing, to him. So far as we know, the first Greek to grasp in full generality this simple and absolutely fundamental moral truth is Socrates.


Innovations in history don't come out of the blue. Somewhere or other in earlier or contemporary Greek literature we might expect anticipations of Socrates' rejection of the talio or at least approximations to it. Let me put before you some of the best approximations I could find and you can judge for yourself if Socrates' originality suffers by comparison.

In the Oresteia Aeschylus confronts the futility and horror of the intrafamilial blood-feud and makes the trilogy culminate in a celebration of the supersession of private vengeance by the majesty of civic law. But he never recants on the principle that "each must suffer the thing he did" enunciated by the chorus as "ordained" in the Agamemnon (1564) and as the "thrice-venerable tale" in the Choephoroi (T8 above). In Seven Against Thebes Antigone invokes it (1049-50) to justify her brother's retaliatory assault against Thebes and does not question the validity of the principle: she only rebuts its application in the present case.

Nor does Herodotus succeed where Aeschylus falters. His Pausanias (9.78-9) rejects indignantly the proposal that he avenge Leonidas by doing to Mardonius' corpse what he and Xerxes had done to that of the Spartan hero. But what are his reasons for rejecting the proposal? (a) That to desecrate the dead "befits barbarians rather than Greeks," and (b) Leonidas has been already avenged in the huge casualties suffered by the Persians. The propriety of revenge is not denied in (a), and is assumed in (b). Herodotus' Xerxes (7.136), declining to retaliate against Sperthias and Bulis for what Sparta had done to his ambassadors, explains that "what he had blamed in the Spartans he would not do himself." This remarkable statement39could be used to derive Socrates' Principles II and IV below. But it is not. There is no hint of the insight that since one may not do oneself what one condemns in another, therefore one should not return wrong for wrong or harm for harm.

A third candidate comes from Thucydides in the speech of the Spartan envoys at Athens in 425 B.C. Their force at Sphacteria, now cut off, is in desperate straits. A truce has been patched up. Negotiations are afoot. The spokesmen for Sparta plead:

T15 Thuc. 4.19.2-3: "We believe that great enmities are not best brought to secure resolution when the party that got the best of the war, bent on retaliation …,40 forces on the other a settlement on unequal terms, but rather when, though the victor has the chance to do just that, yet, aiming at decency. … he rises higher in virtue … to offer unexpectedly moderate terms. For if what the other now owes is not retaliation for what was forced on him …, but a return of virtue …, a sense of shame will make him readier to stand by the agreement."

The Spartans plead: Don't go by the talio this time or, better still, work it in reverse: leave us generosity, not injury, to repay. Defeat on these terms we could live with. Your moderation would evoke our best, not our worst, and you would have that further surety that the peace will endure.

Clear in this passage is the perception of a better way to settle a long-standing dispute. Morally better, certainly—perhaps even prudentially, since the victor might have more to gain from enhanced security that the agreement will be kept than from any immediate advantage he could extort. But is there so much as even a hint that the Spartans, and Thucydides himself who credits their spokesmen with this fine sentiment in this passage, perceive that the talio itself is unjust? None that I can see. To say that, if you did not drive the hardest bargain your present advantage puts within your grasp, your restraint will be admirable and will also pay off, is not to say that if you did prefer the other course you would be acting unjustly.41

My last candidate is the character of Odysseus in Sophocles' Ajax. The mad protagonist of this tragedy, imbued with mortal hatred for Odysseus, had planned to put him to a slow, tortured, death. He had announced the plan to Athena in Odysseus' hearing and reaffirmed the determination to carry it out despite her plea that he refrain. Knowing this, Odysseus takes no joy in the calamities which now afflict his enemy. When burial is denied to Ajax, Odysseus pleads with Agamemnon to rescind the edict.

T16 Sophocles, Ajax 1332ff.: "Listen, For the gods' sake, do not dare / So callously to leave this man without a grave. / Do not let violence get the better of you / So as to hate this man so much that you trample justice./To me too he was bitterest enemy … / But nonetheless, though he was all of that, / I would not so dishonour him in return … as to deny / He was the best of us who went to Troy,/Save for Achilles … /It is not just to injure a good man/After his death, even if you hate him.

From the standpoint of our own Christianized morality Odysseus' reaction to his enemy's downfall, however admirable, is not extraordinary. In his own time and place it is so far above anything that could be expected of a decent man that it takes Athena by surprise. She had offered Odysseus to parade before him Ajax in his disordered state, thinking it would please her favorite to see his rival, once so mighty, now laid low. She asks Odysseus,

T16 Ibid. 79: "When is laughter sweeter than when we laugh at our foes?"42

When he declines the offer we are moved to agree with Albin Lesky that here "the man is greater than the goddess."43

Can we then say that what we see here is a man who has come to understand that retaliation itself is unjust? We cannot. What we see is a man of exceptional moral stature realizing that this particular application of the principle—in denial of burial (contrary to divine law) to this man (next to Achilles the best of the Achaeans)—would be unjust.44 What we do not see is a man who would scruple to apply it in any circumstances against any man. Elsewhere in the play his Odysseus accepts the justice of retaliation as a moral commonplace. He remarks in another connection,

T18 Ibid 1322-3: "If he gave insult for insult I pardon him."

Odysseus has not come to see that the talio as such is wrong, a precept not of justice but of injustice. Neither has the poet for whom he speaks.

If we go back to to an earlier scene, near the start of the play, when Agamemnon's decree had not yet fouled the waters, and ask ourselves how Sophocles accounts for the pure nobility of Odysseus' rancorless response to his stricken enemy's state, we can tell, I believe, that the poet wants us to see it rooted in the sense not of justice but of compassion. He evokes what we all may feel for a fellow-creature when touched by the sense of our common frailty, our common defencelessness against implacable fate:

T19 Ibid. 119-26: Athena: "Here was a man supreme in judgment, unsurpassed in action, matched to the hour. Did you ever see a better?"45 Odysseus: Not one. And that is why, foe though he is, I pity his wretchedness, now yoked to a terrible fate. I have in view no more his plight than mine, I see the true condition of us all. We live, yet are no more than phantoms, weightless shades."

This is the mood of the eighth Pythian:

T20 Pindar, Pyth. 8.1-2: Day-creatures. What is it to be or not to be? Man is a shadow in a dream.

It is the mood of Herodotus' Solon when he remarks, "Man is all accident." It is as old as the Odyssey. We hear it in book 18 in Odysseus' sombre musings (vv. 130-7) on the theme "Earth breeds no creature feebler than man." The moral import of the sentiment we see after the massacre of the suitors in book 22. When Eurycleia lets out a whoop of vengeful joy at the sight of the gore spattered about the banquet hall, Odysseus rebukes her sternly,

T21 Od. 22.411-12: "Keep your gloating to yourself, old woman. Shut, up. Don't yell. It isn't pious to exult over corpses."48

More successfully than Pindar or Homer Sophocles distills moral therapy from the sense of man's brittleness. He reveals how it can purge the heart from the toxins of spite and hatred. But when he has done this, we still want to know: Has he seen that the talio is a fraud, its justice a delusion? To this we must reply that he has not even faced the question. So we return to Socrates, who did, and reasoned out an answer.


The reasoning which leads him to it is laid out in that short section of the Crito (48B-C)49 which starts the deliberation by which Socrates justifies the decision to remain in jail and await execution. He calls this the arche of the deliberation, its "starting-point" or, as we would say, reading the metaphor differently, its foundation. This comprises five principles laid out in rapid-fire succession:

T22 Cr. 48B4-C9:

  1. "We should never do injustice.…"
  2. "Therefore, we should never return an injustice.
  3. "We should never do evil … [to anyone]."-50
  4. "Therefore, we should never return evil for evil [to anyone].…"
  5. "To do evil to a human being is no different from acting unjustly to him.…"

Of these five principles the one that would hit Plato's readers hardest are 11 and IV. Here Greeks would see a fellow-Greek cutting out of their morality part of its living tissue. Socrates is well aware of this. For after laying out all five principles he proceeds to zero in on just these two:

T23 Cr. 49C10-D5:51 "Therefore, we should never return a wrong [Principle II] or do evil to a single human being … no matter what we may have suffered at his hands [Principle IV]. And watch out, Crito, lest in agreeing with this you do so contrary to your real opinion … For few are those who believe or will believe this. And between those who do and those who don't there can be no common counsel.… Of necessity they must feel contempt for one another when viewing each other's deliberations."52

What Socrates says here he never asserts about any other view he ever voices in Plato: with people who do not agree with him on these two principles which enunciate the interdict on retaliation he would be unable to take "common counsel" about anything. Is he saying that this disagreement would cause a total breakdown of communication? No. Socrates is not saying that he cannot argue with anyone who rejects Principles II and IV. Obviously he can: he does so, copiously, with Polus, Callicles, Thrasymachus, and who knows how many others. But what he is saying is serious enough: if agreement cannot be reached on these two principles there can be no common deliberation: the gulf created by this disagreement will be unbridgeable when it comes to deciding what is to be done. The political consequences of his remark I shall be unable to pursue in this book.53 Here I must concentrate on Principles II and IV as norms of personal action within the limits fixed for the individual by public law.54

While they mark Socrates' break with the established morality they do not account for the break by themselves. Each is derived from one or more other principles in the set. Principle II is derived directly and exclusively from Principle I.

  1. We should never do injustice. Ergo:
  2. We should never do injustice in return for an injustice.

From the proposition that we should refrain from doing injustice in any circumstances whatever ("never" do it), Socrates infers by simple deduction that we should refrain from doing it in the special circumstances in which we have been victims of injustice ourselves. To derive IV he uses I again, this time in conjunction with V:

V. Doing any evil to a human being is the same as doing injustice to that person.

And since

I. We should never do injustice,

it follows from this in conjunction with Principle V, that

III. We should never do any evil to a human being. Ergo

IV. We should never return evil for evil.

From the proposition that we should refrain from doing evil to anyone in any circumstances whatever ("never" do it), he infers as before that we should not do it when evil has been done to us.

The commanding importance of Principle I in this reasoning should be evident: it is the sole premise for the derivation of Principle II, and it is used again for the derivation of Principle IV in conjunction with the further premise, Principle V. How would Socrates justify the latter? What reason would he give us to agree that to do any evil55 to anyone is no different from doing that person an injustice? There is no fully satisfactory answer to this question anywhere in Plato's Socratic dialogues. The nearest Socrates comes to confronting the question is in that passage of Republic I where he refutes the conventional notion that justice consists of doing good to friends and evil to enemies (335A8-10). To rebut the second term in that conjunction Socrates picks what he believes to be the worst evil that could be done to a human being—to impair that person's justice—and argues that this would be impossible: justice in one person could not produce injustice in another—no more than heat in one thing could produce cold in another or drought in one thing produce moisture in another (335B-D). The force of these analogies is problematic.56 And even if the validity of the reasoning were granted in this case, where the retaliatory evil would impair the enemy's justice, how it would be extended beyond it is not made clear: if the just man cannot impair another man's justice, how would it follow that neither could he harm another in any of innumerable ways in which one could do evil to an enemy without impairing the enemy's justice? The one thing that is made clear in this passage—and this is what we must settle for—is Socrates' intuition that true moral goodness is incapable of doing intentional injury to others, for it is inherently beneficent, radiant in its operation, spontaneously communicating goodness to those who come in contact with it, always producing benefit instead of injury, so that the idea of a just man injuring anyone, friend or foe, is unthinkable. This version of undeviatingly beneficent goodness guides Socrates' thought at so deep a level that he applies it even to the deity; it leads him to project a new concept of god as a being that can cause only good, never evil.57 Let us then accept it as such, as a powerful intuition whose argumentative backing remains unclear in Plato's presentation of Socrates' thought.58

So the full weight of the justification of Socrates' rejection of retaliation must fall on Principle I. From this alone, without appeal to any further consideration whatsoever, Socrates derives the interdiction of returning wrong for wrong for wrong in Principle II and therewith the surgical excision of that malignancy in the traditional morality which surfaces in actions like the genocide Athens had all but inflicted on Mytilene and then, as the war dragged on, did inflict on Scione, Torone, and Melos.59 Plato's awareness of the importance of Principle I shows up in the way he leads up to it in the text of the Crito which immediately precedes T22 above.