Socrates

Of all confrontations in political philosophy, the biggest is

the conflict between philosophy and politics. The problem remains

making philosophy friendly to politics. The questioning of authoritative

opinions is not easily accomplished nor is that realm of philosophy - the

pursuit of wisdom. Socrates was the instigator of the conflict. While the

political element takes place within opinions about political life,

Socrates asks the question "What is the best regime and how should I live?"

Ancient thought is riddled with unknowns and can make no such statement as

"how should I live." The Socratic philosophy offers an alternative and

prepares the way for the alternative of absolutes. This alternative is not

without its faults. Socratic philosophy is plagued by a destructive

element. It reduces the authoritative opinions about political life but

replaces it with nothing. This is the vital stem from which the "Apology

of Socrates" is written. Because of the stinging attack on Athenian life,

and the opinions which they revere so highly, Socrates is placed on trial

for his life.

The question now becomes why and in what manner did Socrates refute

the gods and is he quilty? Socrates, himself, speaks out the accusers

charges by saying "Socrates does injustice and is meddlesome, by

investigating the things under the earth and the heavenly things, and by

making the weaker the stronger and by teaching others these things" (Plato,

19b;c). This is the charge of the "old" accusers. It is seen from an

example in "The Clouds". Strepsiades goes to Socrates in order to learn

how to pursuade his son by "making the weaker speech the stronger"

(Aristophanes, 112). Why does Socrates remind the assembly about the old

accusers? It appears improper for a man on trial to bring about his other

\'crimes\'. Aristophanes, in particular, is implicated by Socrates as an old

accuser. "For you yourselves used to see these things in the comedy of

Aristophanes" (Plato, 19c). The poets helped to shape Greek culture.

Poetry was passed on and perpetuated the city where thought constantly

changed.

Philosphy begins in debunking what the city thinks they know in

order to refute the god. It is evident that Socrates is not guided by the

gods of the city. Socrates says "it is not part of the same man to believe

in daimonian and divine things" (Plato, 27e). Socrates is subtly admitting

his guilt. Perhaps Socrates believs in gods, but if so, they are not the

gods of the city. Socrates simply denies that he has had any part in

celestial or subterranean inquiry - he simply speaks "elsewhere". Socrates

goes on to say that those who do are reported to be atheists. However,

Socrates says that "Zeus does not eveeen exist" (Aristophanes, 367).

Socrates replaces Zeus with nature, the permanent and necessary things

accessable to reason. This is an outrage to any Athenian. To deny the

gods is to deny faith and ultimately the authoritarian opinions on which

their politics is based.

Why does Socrates think that he is being unjustly punished?

Chaerophon had told Socrates that the Pythian Oracle had said that Socrates

was the wisest man. Socrates admits that "I am conscious that I am not

wise, either much or little" (Plato, 20b). Socrates wonders what the

riddle is and sets out to "refute the divination" (Plato, 20c). This is a

prime example of Socrates\' impiousness as is his statement in "The Clouds"

where he states "we don\'t credit Gods" (Aristophanes, 248). He is

attempting to refute the god at Delphi. Socrates tries to aid his own

defense by charging that what he does is in devotion to the god. "Even now

I still go around seeking and investigating in accordance with the god"

(Plato, 23b). Socrates makes this brash statement yet it is unfounded and

untrue because it is not a devine order for Socrates to pursue this line of

investigation. In opposition, Socrates asserts that the daimonian did not

oppose him.

Socrates\' impiety is not the only thing that resulted in histrial.

Socrates was "the gadfly" stinging the city of Athens. When Socrates

proposes that the god sent him on his quest, he set out to prove it wrong.

In the process, he questioned "the politicians and those reported to be

wise" (Plato, 21c). After finding