Garth Kemerling's insightful
discussion of Socrates contains many links to concepts and people.
Michael S. Russo provides
a clear commentary to Socrates' life and ideas.
The mind altering depiction of the trial of
Socrates. really, this work changed the world and if you read it
well it will change you too.
Apology: Study Questions
To think about and look for when reading the original
Socrates make important references to the oracle.
learn about this remarkable aspect of history from Scientific American
J's Illustrated Apology
A detailed analysis of the trial of Socrates.
and The Apology
Lecture notes by Janice Siegel
Ignorance: It is important to note that Socrates himself did not claim
to know better than others. In the above listed dialogues he frequently
emphases that he is ignorant of the answer. The importance of this helps
to draw the line between dogma and genuine philosophy. It is one thing
to state one's opinion of how things are and should be. Powerful institutions
such as religions and political systems are built upon such dogmas and
the demands that others abide by them. Socrates, on the other hand, started
from a position of ignorance and sought the truth. In the end, he has
no dogmatic program for us to follow, just a method for seeking the truth
for ourselves, without any guarantee that we will find it. Philosophy
as practiced by Socrates is an open system.
In Apology by Plato, Socrates explains why
he follows his philosophical path, even to his death [note:
"apology" implies not admission of guilt but an intention to
give justification for some action or position]. The ancient
Greeks had a sacred temple in Delphi. In the temple was a woman who was
said to be possessed by the gods and able to get answers from them. Chaerephon
traveled to Delphi to ask the Oracle; "Who is the wisest of men?"
The answer came back that "No one is wiser than Socrates."
Socrates explains to the court;
|When I heard the answer,
I said to myself, What can the god mean? and what is the interpretation
of this riddle? for I know that I have no wisdom, small or great.
What can he mean when he says that I am the wisest of men? And yet
he is a god and cannot lie; that would be against his nature. After
a long consideration, I at last thought of a method of trying the
question. I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself,
then I might go to the god with a refutation in my hand. I should
say to him, "Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but you said
that I was the wisest." Accordingly I went to one who had the
reputation of wisdom, and observed to him - his name I need not mention;
he was a politician whom I selected for examination - and the result
was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking
that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many,
and wiser still by himself; and I went and tried to explain to him
that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence
was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were
present and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away:
Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really
beautiful and good, I am better off than he is - for he knows nothing,
and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know. In
this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage
of him. Then I went to another, who had still higher philosophical
pretensions, and my conclusion was exactly the same. I made another
enemy of him, and of many others besides him....therefore
I asked myself on behalf of the oracle, whether I would like to be
as I was, neither having their knowledge nor their ignorance, or like
them in both; and I made answer to myself and the oracle that I was
better off as I was.
In this excerpt we find a key to the Socrates and
the philosophical tradition that he gave birth to. When he finds that
the experts are just as ignorant about what things really are, he reasons;
"I do not suppose
that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better
off than he is - for
he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that
I know." Socrates concludes that it is better
to have honest ignorance than self-deceptive ignorance. Socrates may not
know the ultimate answers to the questions he raises, but he knows himself.
It is this self-knowledge and integrity that constitutes the wisdom of
Socrates. The open invitation is for all of us to ask ourselves how much
we truly know of what we claim.
- learn more about the ideas of Socratic Philosophy.