GREEK PHILOSOPHY - II.
8 - Socrates
The Sophists and Socrates
The philosophical successor of the Sophists, though
a contemporary of the earliest and chief ones, is Socrates. Like them, he
maintained a sceptical attitude towards the physical speculations of the
early nature-philosophers, and was driven, in part at least, by the
unsatisfactoriness of those speculations, to the almost exclusive contemplation
of human nature. But to him "man" in the Protagorean dictum meant man
not merely in his individual, but also and primarily in his universal,
nature, man the thinker and the natural participator in the life of his
fellow-men. For the showy rhetoric and false dialectic of the Sophists
he sought to substitute scientific method, adequate to fact and
universal truth; and for their doctrine of external pleasure and
utility, the idea of inherent justice and happiness. Like the Sophists,
he questioned existing beliefs and institutions —theological, ethical,
political— but he sought to discover and preserve their universal
element, or truth.
As to his external methods, neither love of
publicity or popular favor, nor ostentation of learning or skill in words, nor
any desire to reap pecuniary reward, had any part in them. In a word, he sought
the "simple truth": in the spirit of the truth he sought the truth first of
all, in its own proper form, universality and accessibility to all intelligence.
What Hegel calls the principle of subjectivity was, as introduced and employed
by the Sophists, largely an empty
form; Socrates gave to it a definite, full, and enduring content.
Special Sources of Information regarding Socrates
Socrates wrote no
philosophical treatise. What is known of him and his teachings has been learned
chiefly from the writings of Xenophon, Plato, and Aristotle. Owing to the
discrepancies between the presentations of Xenophon and of Plato, there arises a
question as to which of the two affords the better view of Socrates and his
philosophizing. Xenophon's superiority, so far as he possesses any, is due to
his evident historical intent. It has been urged, however, that he wrote largely
as an apologist, that he lacked the speculative insight necessary for the
appreciation at its full value of the Socratic philosophizing, and that he has
pictured Socrates regarded as a pattern of manhood, rather than Socrates the
speculative inquirer. Plato's presentation, on the other hand, though
undoubtedly an idealization, is, in the earlier dialogues, sufficiently faithful
to external fact, and probably represents, more truly than the Xenophontic, the
spirit, method, and tendency, if not the outward doctrines and circumstances, of
the Socratic philosophizing: the student who is especially interested in the
continuity and development of Greek philosophy will, no doubt, derive, as regards
Socrates, more satisfaction from Plato than from Xenophon, for the simple reason
that Plato's mature views were shaped with reference to the whole course of
Greek thought preceding him, being or containing, therefore, the development of
Socratic as well as other earlier doctrines.
Life of Socrates
Socrates was born near Athens, about the year 469 B.C., his
parents being Sophroniscus,
a sculptor, and Phænarete, a midwife. Of his early years nothing is known, save
that he must have received the usual education in gymnastics, poetry, and music.
He was sell-instructed in geometry and astronomy; and doubtless heard the
lectures of some of the Sophists, with whom, in all probability, he frequently
measured dialectical swords. It is conjectured that with some regular
instruction or other assistance from others, he made a special study of the
theories of the Pythagoreans, the Eleatics, Heraclitus, and Anaxagoras. If
he really did so, he undoubtedly formed original opinions of them, and regarded
much in them as problematical and futile. It is sometimes said that he followed
for a while his father's occupation, and that a work of his, "representing the
Graces attired, was standing at the entrance to the Acropolis" as late as 150
A.D. Not long after he was thirty years of age he entered upon what he regarded
as a divine calling, that of a seeker of wisdom and searcher of men. He
professed to know only his own ignorance; to be, not a teacher, but an
intellectual "midwife". In this vocation he spent most of the remaining forty
years of his life; but instead of traveling extensively, as did most of his
predecessors in philosophy, and of affecting a learned cosmopolitanism, as did
some of the Sophists, he remained continuously at Athens, with the exception
of three or four intervals when he was absent on a holiday trip or with the
army. His astonishing indifference to hardship while in military service, his
bravery, his self-forgetfulness, his sagacity, and, withal, his periods of rapt
meditation, are forever memorable. Public office he cared less for than did any
philosopher who had lived before him, and
accepted it only once, and then not till near the close of his life and only
from a sense of duty. Once when in office, and again when merely a private
citizen, he defied tyranny by refusing to violate at its bidding the law of the
state. Standing aloof from participation in political affairs, he held firmly
and, as he declared, patriotically, to his calling; and in the pursuit of this
he might be found in the gymnasium, the market-place, the workshop, conversing
with boys, men, and women, of all sorts and conditions, putting to them keen
questions, and quickening the pulse of moral and intellectual life. He was
concerned almost as little about his own family affairs as about affairs of
state; and if Xanthippe was really the scolding wife that tradition represents
her to have been, she certainly had occasion for so being. Socrates was, in
fact, so absorbed in his calling that he neglected to exercise common prudence
not only for his family, but for himself. It was food and raiment to him to
probe the conceit and foolish ignorance of men, to search their consciences and
expand their shrivelled individualities; in short, to awaken them to the life
of true self-consciousness. In doing this he made them, now his friends and
helpers, now his bitter enemies, but always, frequently in spite of themselves,
his enlightened pupils. It was no part of his business or purpose to fill the
ears of men with a specious wisdom, and to send them away self-complacent and
ready to appear wise for a price; it was not primarily his business or purpose
to inform those with whom he conversed, but to render them thoughtful, critical,
and, if need were, even sceptical. He became an object of ridicule and hatred to
the lovers of the old ways and times, and was, by the
poet Aristophanes, in his comedy of The Clouds, satirized as a Sophist and a
charlatan of the worst description. At last, certain of the "conservatives,"
exasperated at seeing themselves and their favorite institutions exposed to the
light of truth by Socrates and by others whom he had stimulated to think,
formally charged him with discarding the national gods, introducing new gods,
and corrupting the youths of Athens. His defense was bold and sharply critical,
and he was (though by only a small majority) condemned to be, according to law,
imprisoned, heavily fined, or banished; and when he refused, somewhat haughtily
indeed, to acknowledge any guilt, and claimed, on the contrary, that he ought to
be publicly entertained in the Prytaneum, or City Home, as a benefactor to the
state, he was by a majority of eighty votes adjudged worthy of death. He went to
prison, and, after a delay of thirty days, during which, partly, as it would
seem, from pride, but mostly from the spirit and habit of obedience to regularly
constituted authority, he scornfully refused a proffered opportunity of escape, he
suffered the penalty by drinking hemlock (399 B.C.). The moral sublimity of his
last hours appears from Plato's dialogue Phædo.
The Personality of Socrates and its Relation to the Subsequent History
Of the personality of Socrates, which seems to have satisfied
Greek notions of completeness and symmetry of character in every item but one,
namely, as regards harmony between exterior appearances and interior reality
(for Socrates was not handsome in aspect), it is necessary to say only so much
here as will direct attention to three aspects of it that appear to bear special
relation to his doctrines, to have
particularly influenced his contemporaries, presenting to his followers
(according to their various capacities) ideals of mental and moral excellence,
and exemplifications of various portions of his doctrines, and thus to have
determined in large measure the subsequent course of philosophy in its history.
It is, probably, to the character quite as much as to the teaching of Socrates
that we must look for the source of the explanation of the effects of the
Socratic philosophizing, and hence of the influence of Socrates in the history
of philosophy. In the first place, then, may be noticed his critical insight and
analytic faculty, which enabled him to understand at a glance and expose plainly
to view, if need were, the inward condition of those about him. It was the pure
genius of inquiry and discovery directed, not to external things, but to the
things of the mind and conscience. This appears in almost all the reported
conversations of Socrates with his contemporaries; and there is evidence of it
in the fact that Socrates made possible, or it may almost be said, discovered
two such intellects as Plato and Aristotle, not to mention, individually, at
this point, certain acute minds among the so-called Lesser Socratics, of whom
we shall have to speak hereafter. In the second place, we notice his moral vigor
and equipoise, the balance of strong emotions and animal faculties under the
rule of a superb will. Socrates, generally and on principle, practised
self-restraint, was even abstemious; and, on the other hand, he at times far
outdid his fellows in convivial indulgence, but without losing self-control.
Socrates, the abstemious, was the ideal of one class of philosophers; Socrates,
the easy master of self, the ideal of another. In the third place, and
finally, there was his "dæmon," or warning voice, and the ever-present
consciousness of the supernatural. Of the real nature of this it is difficult to
form a satisfactory opinion. Socrates himself did not identify it with reason or
with conscience, he did not attribute to it a scientific character or
importance. Nor, on the other hand, does he seem to have viewed it as a familiar
spirit, an attendant personality. It was to him, rather, an inner oracle, which,
instead of giving him a standard of truth or rule of life, warned and restrained
him on particular occasions (2). To the general mission of his life it seems to have
been related only in so far as it gave increased vitality to the idea or feeling
of subjectivity or close relation to an inner reality. Especially did it hold
him aloof from public affairs, thus contravening the whole spirit of Greek life; and it helped to add internal significance to what had hitherto been too much
a matter of external observance, namely, piety and the religious life. In the eyes
of those about him he was by it rendered more sacred and more authoritative as a
teacher; they felt that in their converse with him they held communion with a
seer and a man of God (3).
Philosophy of Socrates
Coming now to the Socratic philosophy, or, more
correctly speaking, since Socrates framed no system, —the Socratic philosophizing,— we have to notice its spirit, its method, its content, or
doctrines, and its general character and result.
Spirit of the Socratic Philosophizing. —Regarding the spirit of the Socratic
philosophizing, it is to be remarked, in the first place, that it was, as has
been already stated, in an important sense and a marked degree, sceptical. He
freely criticised prevailing beliefs, customs, and institutions. He discredited
the early physical speculation on the ground that it was unprofitable, and even
impious (4). He encouraged the study of geometry and astronomy, for example, only
in so far as they served the most utilitarian ends. He discredited the "wisdom"
of the Sophists without always putting forward palpable and positive doctrines
in its stead. He discredited, if we may say so, himself, asserting that he knew
only that he knew nothing. He made no pretension to being a teacher at all, not
to say a teacher of philosophy (5). It was, indeed, not without apparent reason
that he was considered by some of his contemporaries as a Sophist, or even worse
than a Sophist. Superficially regarded, at least, Socrates was one of the most
pronounced negativists of his age. And if we look below the surface for what
was positive in him, we shall find it, not in the positing of an άρχή of all
existence, but in his affirmation of the necessity and all-sufficingness of self-Knowledge for the practical purposes of human life, in his love of true
manhood, and in his assumption that the essence, or, rather, essences of things,
can be expressed in a definition valid for all human intelligences. The position
of Socrates was equivocal; he knew that he did not know (6), and yet he felt that he
had a deeper sense of reality than any other man of his age. And this brings us to a
element in the spirit of the Socratic philosophizing, namely, the profound irony
that pervades much of it. This is not that playful and sarcastic irony that
appears immediately on the surface and belongs rather to the external manner and
method of Socrates; that habit of pretending to be ignorant in order the better
to draw out or put to confusion a pupil or disputant. It was, the rather, a
certain equivocality of speech begotten of the consciousness of the possession
of superior insight and of the existence of a gulf between himself and his
hearers. It was the irony of his situation, and did not proceed from humor or
whim. When he professed ignorance, though, from one point of view he spoke the
literal truth, for he had a deeper insight than he could give adequate and
scientific utterance to, —he seemed to be giving the lie in words to the
well-known effects of his manner and teaching, his well-known power over men's
minds. This was sometimes perplexing and exasperating to his associates, and
more than anything else, perhaps, was the cause of his death. Thirdly: This
irony was softened in a measure by a large geniality (proceeding from bodily and
spiritual health) —by what, in its superficial aspect, has been termed by Hegel
and others after him "Attic urbanity" (7), but seems to be nothing more nor less
than love of true self-hood, regard for essential human nature. If,
indeed, the leading idea of the teaching of Socrates is, as we shall
see, the prime importance of self-knowledge, a large element in its
spirit is self-love or the love of the true self, very like what in
recent years has been termed the "enthusiasm of humanity". The Greeks,
generally, were lovers and admirers not of humanity in general, but of
Greek humanity; Socrates was broader in his insights and sympathies than
his fellows were.
But, finally, the principal
element in the spirit of the Socratic philosophizing was a love of the truth, —a
love rooted in a profound sense of reality and a pretty clear insight into the
fundamental form of truth. This was, no doubt, qualified by his attitude toward
the existing philosophy of nature and his predilection for man; and Socrates
was, consequently, not a philosopher in the fullest sense of the term; he was an
ethical inquirer. But within the sphere of human interests he never for long
nor in any essential regard turned aside from the search for truth for its own
The Socratic Method
As to the method of the Socratic philosophizing, we must
observe that it was not grounded upon the conception of any fully conceived
principle of all existence, and that, on the other hand, it was not mere
subjective groping after the "truth". It was not merely a logical mode of
procedure but was also pedagogical. It was a method of bringing into
consciousness, by any and every true psychological expedient, clearly and
effectively, true conceptions. Such being the case, it is chiefly a necessity of
exposition merely that warrants the separation here of the spirit and the method
of this philosophizing. Logically regarded, the Socratic method was a compound
of simple induction and definition —"two improvements in science which one might justly ascribe to
and reasoning upon the principle of analogy. Socrates, Xenophon tells us (9), was always stimulating his companions to inquire into the
essence or nature of things, and to class them properly. He did not, however,
frame a systematic theory of logical (or pedagogical) processes or method.
But, again, the Socratic "method" was a process, the outcome of which depended
upon insight, sympathy, tact, quite as much as upon logic. It was an ethical
conference, the presiding spirit of which was the love of the truth,
intellectual and moral. Informal conversation was the natural outward aspect of
it, both on account of the state of the Greek mind and Greek society and on
account of the character of the truth (chiefly ethical) that was the subject of
the Socratic inquiries. Crude individualism had begun to prevail; interchange of
opinion was necessary and natural; the Greeks were a social, talkative people;
the raw material for ethical science or edification had to be gathered and
wrought up by dialogue (whence "dialectic"). And, we may observe in passing, the
truth that was in Grecian life must have been brought to life and made effective
in the Socratic conferences, for at them were present some of the very flower of
that life: Euripides, Xenophon, Pericles the Younger, Critias, Alcibiades,
Phædo, Chærephon, Plato, Euclid, and others, most of whom came to Socrates
"not," to quote Xenophon, "that they might become public speakers in the assembly
or the courts (10), but that they might become noble and good, capable of
discharging properly their duties to their families, their servants, their
relatives, their friends, the state, and
their fellow-countrymen"(11). Some of them, as Plato and Euclid, came, no doubt,
for intellectual training also —to understand and catch, if possible, that
wonderful mastery of conceptions which made Socrates the king of dialectic. Now,
in these conferences with fresh, earnest, active minds —and some not fresh,
active, and earnest— Socrates delighted to practise what he was pleased to call
his maieutic or obstetric art, —his art of bringing ideas or conceptions to
the birth, for he saw that the minds of the Grecian youths were in labor. In the
practice of this art he assumed that truth is native to the mind, —not to be
poured into it, but, the rather, to be drawn out of it (12). Now, sometimes, he
feigned, the ideas that he by his art brought to the birth were not "worth
keeping and rearing," and must be "exposed" in real Spartan fashion,
important consequence of the "birth" being increased self-knowledge on the part
of those who had been relieved of the ideas with which their minds had been
pregnant. Sometimes, however, the ideas were sound and vigorous, and, if well
cared for, might be reared into something worth the trouble of rearing them. The
Socratic dialectic —for, as has been intimated, the dialogue became dialectic—
was, accordingly, twofold, destructive and constructive. On the whole it was,
perhaps, more frequently the former than the latter, with a net result,
however, of what was positive and enduring; as the one fact, Plato, man and
philosopher, is sufficient to prove (13). And if we look more closely into the
nature and effect of the Socratic dialectic, we find that the majority of those
who were, willingly or unwillingly to themselves, subjected to it were, in the
beginning, unripe for the perception of the naked truth: they could not
appreciate logical distinctions, pure and simple, nor could they understand
fact. They were filled with false sentiments and opinions; some of them were
stuffed with the learning of the Sophists and were full of conceit. Before they
could be brought to the perception and appreciation of positive and constructive
truth they must be relieved of their ignorance, false sentiment, and conceit.
They must be encouraged in their right opinions and their keen appetite for
knowledge. These services Socrates could perform for them thoroughly and well.
The young man who was confident that he was just, and understood what justice
was, lost confidence in himself and his ideas of justice, after being compelled
to contradict himself several times within a few breaths; and he simply desired
to know himself and how to make himself capable of understanding what he had in
vain long labored to understand. Such is a case, reported by Xenophon (14), of the
use of destructive dialectic and its effect. In dialectic of this sort a false
general statement was overthrown by being shown to be inconsistent with an
admitted general truth or well-known particular facts. In the opposite process,
the constructive dialectic, some truth or right opinion held by the learner was
confirmed, or some new truth was brought to light; induction, definition, and reasoning by analogy constituting the
logical elements of the process.
On the whole, the most valuable result of the Socratic dialectic was the begetting, in those who took part in the conferences, of the spirit of Socrates
himself, —modesty, the habit of circumspection, a sense of the differences in
things, an intelligent love of the truth and of wholeness or integrity of mind
and character; what, in short, may be termed the philosophic spirit.
The Doctrines of Socrates; their General Character
The doctrines of Socrates,
it has already been intimated, were chiefly ethical in content. Whatever there
may have been —and doubtless there was much— in what we have termed the
Socratic conferences, to suggest to a mind like that of Plato, or of Euclid,
who was afterwards a leader of one of the Socratic schools, a science of the
soul (psychology), or of ultimate being (ontology), the fact is that the old and
popular maxim which Socrates adopted as the expression of the leading thought
of his teaching, γνώθι σεαυτόν, "Know thyself," was given by
him an application
principally practical, or ethical (and in a rather narrow sense): Man should
know himself —in order to be good and do the good. Though he assumed that truth
was native to the mind and that human knowledge is at bottom self-knowledge, he
did not make the nature of the mind or soul as such a subject of scientific
investigation, nor did he wholly or in part identify self-knowledge with the
knowledge of absolute intelligence or reality. To judge from the Charmides, one
of the earliest and doubtless one of the most purely Socratic of Plato's
dialogues, Socrates was sceptical in regard to the possibility of constructing
a science of absolute
knowledge or being, it being impossible for him to separate in thought the form
of knowledge from the content.
Physical Philosophy of Socrates
did not abstain entirely from speculation concerning things not human. For
though he hesitated on the threshold of the science of ultimate intelligence and
reality, and cast aside as futile and impious the early nature-philosophy, he
was not without a theory of nature. In his youth he was, according to a
representation in one of the dialogues of Plato (15), always agitating himself with
questions relating to the mechanical causes and constituents of things.
Anaxagoras, though not completely satisfactory to him, had helped him to get
beyond mechanical to final causes, in which alone he found complete
satisfaction. Whether Plato's representation be perfectly authentic or not, we
find, as we turn the pages of Xenophon, that a favorite theme with Socrates is
the beautiful and wise adaptation and order in nature, showing the care of the
gods or providence (for polytheistic and monotheistic points of view are blended
in the accounts) for the human family. The Socratic interpretation of nature is,
however, not a philosophical deduction. It does, indeed, subordinate nature to
the idea of the Good, but the mechanistic conception exists side by side with,
and practically prevails over, the teleological and organic: nature, though
held to be animated by a soul, is conceived as a wise contrivance, for man's
benefit chiefly, rather than as a living self-realizing organism (16) in which man
holds a superior place because of his superior power of assimilating and synthetizing
the "elements" of reality. This latter conception of nature we shall have
occasion to examine when we reach Aristotle. The Socratic theory, which is
theological (in not the largest sense) rather than philosophical, is the
beginning, historically speaking, of what is commonly termed Natural Theology.
Ethical Philosophy of Socrates
Relations between Knowledge and Virtue
Coming now to the doctrines that are
most characteristically Socratic (17), we find the first and most important to be this: All virtue is knowledge.
Knowledge here means, according to the express
testimony of Aristotle (18), as well as the whole tenor of the Socratic discussions
everywhere, (not mere "prudence" or practical insight, but) science, correct
definition. The man of virtue is not he who performs his duties to self and the
state, half-reflectively, but he who possesses, and consciously realizes in act,
the exact conception of each of his relations to self and the state. Socrates
meant that scientific knowledge is not only a condition to virtue, but the
condition; and, conversely, that vice is simply ignorance: to do wrong wittingly
is better than to do right ignorantly (19). Character and deliberate choice,
consequently, were not regarded by Socrates as elements of virtue. He did not
admit that there was any merit or virtue in the overcoming of evil inclinations
by force of character or will. Given knowledge, thought he, and there follows,
necessarily and immediately, virtue. "Now the rest of the world are of the
opinion that knowledge is a principle not of strength or of rule, or of command;
their notion is that a man may have knowledge, and yet that the knowledge which
is in him may be mastered by anger, or pleasure, or pain, or love, or perhaps
favor, —just as if knowledge were a slave and might be dragged about anyhow.
Now, is that your view? Or do you think that knowledge is a noble and commanding
thing, which cannot be overcome, and will not allow a man, if he only knows the
difference of good and evil, to do anything contrary to knowledge, but that
wisdom will have strength to help him (20)?
General Consequences of the Unity of Knowledge and Virtue
From the unity of
virtue and knowledge it follows that the virtues are not many, merely, but one
also. They are related to each other, not as the "parts of the face" but "as the
parts of gold," which are like one another, and like the whole of which they are
parts. One implies the rest; there is a necessary relation between them through
knowledge (21). Possessing a common essence, they possess a power of giving rise one
to another: the man who, in one relation is temperate, will in another be just,
or holy, or courageous, as the case may require. From the unity of virtue and
knowledge, it follows, also, that the virtues can be taught. They are not, as
the Sophists thought, so many particular knacks, or little arts, that can be
caught and practised by instinct: they are the offspring of conception,
scientific apprehension. Hence the importance, constantly emphasized by
Socrates, of comprehending in every instance the exact nature of what is
required to be done,
and of a right training of the mind to the forming of conceptions, i.e.,
Classification of the Virtues
But, now, what virtues are there? and of what
are they the knowledge? To these questions Socrates gives no scientific answer.
Virtue is for him the knowledge of the Good, and the Good is not the
realization of a universal and absolute end, but of the true conceptions or ends
of individual objects or acts. The Good, in other words, is the useful. Upon
being asked by one of his disciples if he knew anything good, Socrates replied,
"Do you ask, Aristippus, if I know anything good for a fever (22)? The Socratic ethics
is unscientific, and, in consequence, utilitarian and eudæmonistic.
Notwithstanding the abstract and radical character of its first principle —All
virtue is knowledge— it remains, for lack of development of that principle,
nearly on the level of mere custom and utility. The principal virtues are
assumed to be temperance,
friendship, courage, right, citizenship, (which, in its highest form, is)
justice, piety; the root and sum of them all being wisdom.
Temperance, the fundamental (though not the crowning) virtue, is the
keeping of the bodily impulses in subjection to the desires of the mind. "I consider it," says Socrates, "as a mark of perfection in the gods that they want nothing; he,
therefore, approaches nearest the divine nature who wants the fewest
things". This must be construed, however, not as an argument for asceticism, but
for self-control merely. "To continue master of himself in the midst of the
allurements of the senses by the unruffled dignity of his own
inner life —that was the aim," says Zeller, "which his moderation proposed to
itself." Without temperance, thought Socrates, men can be nothing in themselves
or to their fellows; the good general, the good guardian, the good neighbor, the
good herdsman, the good slave, is temperate (23).
Of friendship and love, Socrates, as we learn from both Xenophon and
Plato, made much. Although, he said, the majority of mankind are more diligent in
acquiring houses, lands, slaves, flocks, and household goods than in gaining
friends, the firm and virtuous friend is the most valuable of all possessions.
But the Socratic theory of friendship is not rose-colored: friends are good
because they are useful. True friendship, however, can exist only between the
intelligent, virtuous, and disinterested. Socrates adopted the common Greek
notion that the end of conjugal love was the begetting of a numerous and healthy
progeny. The force of the Socratic doctrines of friendship must have been
enhanced for his associates by his spirit and manner in conversation; he would
"frequently assume the character and language of a lover" (24) for the purpose of
winning the confidence of others and getting them enamored of the truth. It is
the doctrine of Socrates set forth in the light of his spirit that Plato has
presented in his Symposium, where Socrates is discoursing in an inspired manner
on spiritual love. In the Socratic conception of friendship and love, there was,
it seems, an element not usually present in me Greek conception, namely, that
of the duty of love to enemies as well as to friends (25).
Right Citizenship and Justice
Socrates never allowed to escape him any
opportunity, on the one hand, to encourage those whom he thought competent, to
engage in the active service of the state, and, on the other, to discourage
those who were incompetent and over-ambitious. Charmides, who was competent, he
urged to acquaint himself with his own powers and to lose no occasion for
exerting them in his country's service (26); but Euthydemus he checked, in the
following satiric manner: "I never learned anything, O men of Athens," he feigns
Euthydemus as saying, "from any one. On hearing that certain persons were
skilled in speaking and in the conduct of practical affairs, I never sought to
associate myself with them; nor did I ever seek an instructor among those
competent to give instruction. On the contrary, I have persistently avoided not
only seeking instruction but even seeming to do so. Nevertheless, I propose to
offer such advice as may happen to occur to me (27)". Socrates then likens him to a
man who should complacently announce that he never thought of making a study of
medicine and had never received any instruction in it, and yet should solicit
others to offer themselves as subjects for him to experiment upon. Socrates was,
doubtless, one of the most ardent, one of the wisest, of all the apostles of
political education and intelligent citizenship the world has ever seen. The
highest privilege, the most commanding duty, the noblest function of the
individual man are, he declared, those connected with citizenship in an
intelligent, well-ordered state, —a state in which "not
the possession of power nor the fortune of the lot, nor popular election, but
knowledge alone, . . . confers a claim to rule (28). If he did not seek a conspicuous
part in the affairs of state (29), that was because he saw the imperative need of
checking ignorant ambition and demagoguism by steadfastly doing what he could to
make knowledge and virtue prevail. As a subject, though he saw fit to criticise
existing institutions and rulers, and to encourage independence of judgment
everywhere, he rendered strict obedience (30); as one of the governors, he was
perfect in firmness and fidelity. Socrates was, in short, both in theory and
practice, one of the comparatively few completely sane and whole-minded among
men, —men who are able to preserve the balance between what is and what "ought"
to be; he was a just man in the larger, Greek sense of the term. And, in the
Greek view, justice, in which right citizenship culminates, is the crowning
virtue, the virtue that harmonizes individual independence with friendship, the
relation of the individual to himself with his relation to others.
The days of Socrates, if ever those of any man were, were "bound each
to each; if not by a "natural piety" in exactly the Wordsworthian sense
by a piety as pure, deep, and simple, —as natural—, as that, and more
distinctively human. Though he discarded
physical speculation as barren and impious, he believed that the order of the
world was cognizable by the power of moral insight. He held that human wisdom,
the knowledge that conduces most to human welfare, was but an image of the
divine wisdom that ruled the world. He enjoined piety for the double reason that
it was due to the gods (God) because of their (His) care for men, and because of
the wisdom apparent in the order of the world, and that to the pious alone are
communicated some of the divine secrets that may not be penetrated into by the
unaided mind of man. He enjoined the customary sacrifices merely as symbols of a pure heart, and his prayer was simply that the gods would give him those things
that were good. In his belief and teaching the Supreme Being was invisible,
all-wise, all-powerful, all-good, exercising dominion over the world as the mind
does over the body (32).
Wisdom, which was sometimes enumerated among the particular virtues by
Greek teachers of ethics, was, as we have seen, regarded by Socrates as the root
and the substance of all the virtues. "Socrates would often say that justice
and every other virtue is wisdom (33)". This is, indeed, just what he meant by the
dictum, All virtue is knowledge. And by knowledge he undoubtedly meant
self-knowledge especially, —a clear, correct conception, on the part of the
individual, of his own powers and limitations as well as of his divine nature.
As we have already seen, Socrates constantly strove to cause those with whom
he conversed to "examine into the nature of things and class them properly,"
i.e., to form
the habit of framing correct conceptions, and he held it to be of the highest
moment that they should apply the art of framing conceptions to the getting of a
knowledge of themselves. Wisdom, then, was to Socrates the science of human
nature; and since the end of this science is virtue, wisdom is simply ethical
or moral science. Socrates did not construct such a science, but pointed the way
to it. Further, Socrates, as we know, held that the scientific knowledge of self
was sufficient to constitute virtue: he who knows how he ought to serve the gods
is pious; he who knows the laws that men ought to observe is just (34): "justice and
every other virtue is wisdom": true conceptions rightly apprehended have an
inherent and necessary power to make men good.
To the Socratic doctrine of the Good may be appended, as in some sort
a corollary, his doctrine of Beauty. The term beauty is scarcely more with
Socrates than another name for what is also called goodness. Beautiful is
whatever is adapted to the purpose for which it was intended, i.e., whatever
realizes its conception; a dung-cart is beautiful if so made that it answers
its purpose (35). The work of the true painter or sculptor —the artist— is not a
medley of individually beautiful elements having no connection with each other
for thought; it is the embodiment of a conception (36).
The general character of the Socratic philosophizing may be
stated as follows: Socrates was by natural temperament, by deliberate choice,
and by circumstances given the task of introducing the problem of self-Knowledge and
of instituting a tendency which should result in
the substitution for the (to a large extent) unscientific and unfruitful
speculations of the early Greek philosophers about nature, and for the
superficial subjectivism and humanism of the Sophists, scientific —or at least
definite— and fruitful conceptions about man, and, later, about universal
reason and nature. "All beyond him lies in the region of unsophisticated use and
wont, or prescriptive ethics, like that of the Chinese or other Oriental
civilizations; on the hither side, the chief interest is the ever-widening
influence of the individual consciousness of moral necessity, the long and
gradual discipline of mankind into independent responsible wills, endowed with "rights of conscience". In the ante-Socratic principle the individual takes the
impulse from without —from auspices or auguries— nothing being undertaken
without them. Individual conscience and personal decision date from the epoch of
Socrates, and their growth from that time is the progress of the world's
history (37). Socrates instituted the science of man; he did so by instituting
in the world's consciousness true manhood. And it is very largely as a personal force that he holds his place, a very high one, in the history of the world's
abstract thought. Hence, we may repeat in conclusion, the necessity of
presenting, in any account of the philosophy of Socrates, so much, relatively,
that is personal and concrete in connection with what, in agreement with the
nature of the subject, must be impersonal and abstract.
(1) See especially Zeller's Socrates and the Socratic Schools
Zeller's Die Geschichte der Philos. der Griechen).
(2) Xenophon's Memorabilia, Bk. I. ch. 1.; Bk. IV. ch. 8.
(3) On Socrates's personality, see particularly, Xenophon's
at the end) and Plato's Symposium. Schwegler's account is brief, comprehensive,
and very forcible. See his Handbook of the History of Philosophy (Stirling's
trans.), pp. 39, 41.
(4) Xenophon's Memorabilia, Bk. I. ch. 1 and Bk. IV. ch. 7.
(5) Ibid., Bk. I. ch. 2.
(6) Plato's Apology, p. 21.
(7) Hegel's Geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. II. p. 50.
(8) Aristotle's Metaphysics, Bk. XIII. ch. 4.
(9) Memorabilia, Bk. IV. ch. 5.
(10) See above, § 7, p. 39.
(11) Memorabilia, Bk. I. ch. 2.
(12) See Plato's Meno, pp. 81—83.
(13) If Critias and Alcibiades turned out badly we are obliged to assume that it was
hardly in them to do otherwise, whoever had been their master.
(14) Memorabilia, Bk. IV. ch. 2. Perhaps the happiest example of the Socratic
dialectic, destructive and constructive, is given in the Meno of Plato.
(15) See the Phædro, pp. 97, 98, 99.
(16) See especially Memorabilia, Bk. I. ch. 4, and Bk. IV. ch. 3.
(17) Aristotle's Metaphysics, Bk. I. ch. 6.
(18) See Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. III. ch. 8; Bk. VI. ch. 2.
(19) Xenophon's Memorabilia, Bk. III. ch. 9; Bk. IV. ch. 6.
(20) Plato's Protagoras, p. 352 (Jowett's translation).
(21) Protagoras, pp. 349, 360.
(22) Memorabilia, Bk. III. ch. 8.
(23) Memorabilia, Bk. I. ch. 5.
(24) Ibid., Bk. IV. ch. 1; Bk. 2. ch. 6, 28.
(25) Plato's Crito, p. 49.
(26) Memorabilia, Bk. III. ch. 7.
(27) Ibid., Bk. IV. ch. 2.
(28) Zeller's Socrates and the Socratic Schools, ch. 7
(29) Memorabilia, Bk. IV. ch. 1.
(30) Ibid., Bk. IV. ch. 4.
(31) See, for example, Wordsworth's stanza beginning—
"My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky".
(32) Memorabilia, Bk. I. chs. 4 and 8.
(33) Ibid., Bk. III. ch. 9.
(34) Memorabilia Bk. IV. ch. 6.
(35) Ibid., Bk. 3. ch. 8.
(36) Ibid., Bk. 3. ch. 10.
(37) "Socrates" (art. by W. T. Harris in Johnson's Cyclopædia).