The Socratic Psyche Essay Research Paper I

The Socratic Psyche Essay, Research Paper

I will begin this paper with a brief account of Socrates. I

feel this is necessary for those who are not familiar with

Socrates. It is as follows: Socrates (C. 470-399 B.C.)

Athenian philosopher who allegedly wrote down none of his

views, supposedly from his belief that writing distorts ideas.

His chief student, Plato, is the major source of knowledge

about his life. Socrates questioned Athenians about

their moral, political, and religious beliefs, as

depicted in Plato^s dialogues; his questioning technique,

called dialectic, has greatly influenced Western philosophy.

Socrates is alleged to have said that ^the unexamined life

is not worth living.^ In 399 B. C., he was brought to

trial on charges of corrupting the youth and religious heresy.

Sentenced to die, he drank poison.

Of the early life of Socrates, there is little to go on.

Looking at W.K.C. Guthrie^s History of Greek Philosophy Vol.

III, we can extract some useful background information.

Socrates was a native Athenian and he was the son of

Sophroniscus and Phaenarete. His father is thought to have been

a stone mason or sculptor. Some even think that Sophroniscus

owned the stone-cutting shop and was quite wealthy. Socrates^

mother is believed to have come from a good family (378).

Socrates was also involved in active military service during

the Peloponnesian war as a hoplite. Socrates would to have had

the wealth and status associated with this position. Socrates

had earned high praise for his courage and coolness in battle.

He took part in three campaigns and his feats of endurance were

well known (Guthrie 379). We also know that Socrates was an

excellent soldier and that neither heat nor cold affected him

and that his fortitude was well known among fellow hoplites and

acquaintances (Symp. 220b). Socrates was not a handsome man, at

least outwardly. He had bulging eyes, a broad, flat, turned-up

nose, thick lips and a paunch (Guthrie 387). Socrates speaks

of an inner voice, given to him by a god. Socrates said that he

did not understand the meaning of this voice, but that it

guided him to seek the truth, the just, what he felt were

virtuous. This inner voice propels him to seek the truth, to

steer him away from what is wrong. As Socrates goes about

seeking the truth and knowledge, he tells people that he knows

nothing and understands even less (Apology 31d) I would call

this inner voice the morality of Socrates; the innate knowledge

of what is right/wrong and what is just/unjust, voices that are

mostly negative for people. This voice, though, leads him to

seek the answers for unresolved questions. Socrates was a

gadfly, a pest always there creating an itch, as if forcing a

person to pay constant attention. Socrates was called the

wisest man in Athens, a compliment that he brushed aside which

also baffled him. The understanding of the truth was the final

goal. Socrates^ method for attaining this was to take a

statement, have a series of cross-examinations, try to tear

down the other side^s argument and then to rebuild and reform.

The result would be the truth of a given matter. This process

is called dialectic, or elenchos. In the Euthyphro, we have a

man who professes to know the law and duty to religion.

Euthyphro had charged his father with murder. His father had

bound a servant by the hands and feet and threw him into a

ditch. The man had killed a household slave and the father went

to seek the advice of the priest in how to handle this matter.

Meanwhile, the man had died of hunger, cold and because of his

hands being bound. Socrates comes along (he was near the

king-archon^s court, for he was under indictment by one

Meletus, for corrupting the youth and religious heresy) and in

the dialogue, Socrates makes Euthphro see his error. Euthyphro

realized that after talking to Socrates he really did not know

as much as he thought he did. In fact, he understood nothing

and Socrates got poor Euthyphro so confused, that he felt like

a fool. In the aforementioned dialogue, Socrates asks

Euthyphro, ^Is the pious loved by the Gods because it is pious

or is it pious because it is loved by them?^(10.a) Do the gods

love us because we are pious to them or does the everyday

person by being pious (following the laws of the city and the

laws of the gods) make himself a better person? The problem

here is that the gods did not have a single absolute conception

of piety. The gods did not always agree. The gods were relative

in their piety and so were the citizens, (most of them) for

following what they thought was loved by the gods. The citizens

had an interesting dichotomy, on one hand they followed nomos

and on the other hand, the law of physis. Although the

citizens would follow all of the human laws and the laws of

religion, bad things still occurred, due to the

unpredictability of nature. So, did being a pious citizen mean

they were above man^s law and only had to answer to the laws of

the gods? This is where Socrates demolished the premise that

Euthyphro had used for dragging his father to court. After

dealing with Socrates, Euthyphro understood even less than he

at first claimed to. Euthphro could not get away from Socrates

soon enough, ending the conversation. Socrates was incredible

in his “midwives’ art” of discourse. This method of dialectic

process, it was a purifying process, like that of a water

filter, removing all scum and sediment, until the results were

pure. It is like the cream that rises to the top. For Socrates,

the inner truth is covered by layers of veils, untruths,

(opinions) and we try to peel away these layers until we

achieve true knowledge (episteme). Socrates is sometimes

confused with the sophists of his time. A clear distinction

must be made here between the two. Sophists of Socrates’ time

would use or find the argument that worked best. Socrates

believed in finding the truth; the sophists did not. The

sophists in Athens at this time were not usually citizens and

they traveled throughout the Greek world. They charged

substantial fees for their services, while Socrates did not.

Their teachings would include ethical, social, and political

issues (G&W xx). Socrates spent most of his life in Athens,

whereas the sophists did not. As Martin L. King Jr. wrote in

his Letter From Birmingham Jail, in 1963, he was asked why he

was doing the things he was doing by his fellow clergymen. He

answered, “that there is a type of constructive, nonviolent

tension which is necessary for growth and just as Socrates felt

that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind, so that

individuals could arise from the bondage of myths and

half-truths, to the unfettered realm of created analysis and

objective appraisal.” Juries in Athens were quite large, 501

citizens in Socrates’ case. They would combine to be both jury

and judge and would also convict and sentence. The job of

assessing the penalty was handled by a prosecutor. This type of

“tension in the mind,” in part, led to Socrates being charged

with religious heresy and corrupting the youth of Athens.

Socrates was found guilty and sentenced to death. While he was

awaiting his fate, Crito, a dear and old friend, came to

Socrates and told Socrates that there was a plan for him to

escape and to avoid death (Crito 46). Socrates explained that

he could not, that two wrongs do not make a right. Socrates had

lived his life as an Athenian citizen and lived by her laws. It

would have been wrong for him to violate the unjust verdict

given to him. He had an obligation to obey the laws of Athens.

As with most of the citizens of Athens, the state was first and

the people came second. Socrates made people think. Most

people fear the truth, as if it were death. Socrates did not,

believing in the immortality of the soul. He went to his death

not afraid, but eager to go and enjoy the fortunes of the

blessed (Phaedo 115 d). He also tells the jurors who acquitted

him: ^but the time has come to go. I go to die and you to live;

which of us goes to a better thing is clear to none, but the

god^ (Apology 42a). Socrates, felt that the afterlife would be

a pleasant and learning experience. There is a another side to

the trial of Socrates. Some people think he was guilty as hell

and deserved what he got. We know that he was not a well-liked

person. Going back to the oracle of Delphi, after Socrates was

told of the reply of none wiser than he in Athens, he was

baffled. He then sets out to prove the god incorrect. He first

goes to a politician, who was considered wise by many and was

full of himself. Socrates found this politician not to be wise

and told him so. Naturally, the man did not like Socrates at

all after this. Socrates then went to the poets and artisans

seeking the same answer without success. However, he did make

many enemies. Socrates sums this up as god is the only perfect

being, who is wise and all others who profess wisdom or claim

to be wise are worth nothing or very little at that (Apology

21-23). Socrates was also the teacher of a couple of students

that were part of the Thirty in 404 B.C. and some people think

that this was a payback to Socrates. He was taking the blame

for the actions of Critias and Alcibiades during the Thirty

Tyrants^ reign (B&S 73). Socrates^ accuser^s could not charge

him with complicity during the reign of the Thirty, due to an

amnesty created, forbidding this. The people who might have had

a part in the overthrow of the democracy in Athens, could not

be charged for it, at least directly. Most people do not want

change. We are born, we consume, we die. If you act differently

from what people expect of you, then you are a freak of nature.

Socrates taught that there is a need for justice, compassion

and tolerance. Individuals have a collective and democratic

duty toward society and themselves. It must be an individual

decision and commitment though, an inwardness beginning with

oneself. People must learn to think for themselves. Life can

and should be made worth living. This is the legacy of


Gagarin, Michael and Paul Woodruff, eds. Early Greek Political Thought

from Homer to the Sophists. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press,


Grube, G.M.A. ed. Plato: The Trial and Death of Socrates.

Indianapolis/Cambridge, Hackett Publishing Company, 1975.


Nehamas, Alexander and Paul Woodruff, eds Plato: Symposium.

Indianapolis/Cambridge, Hackett Publishing Company, 1989.

Taylor, A E. Socrates: the Man and His Thought. New York, Doubleday &

Company, Inc. 1952.


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