1 Bruell claims that this passages shows that Socrates was concerned with his vindication over the longer term (Christopher Bruell, On the Socratic Education [Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999], pp. 135–6). But then he also observes, ‘Socrates makes scarcely an assertion of any importance in the Apology of Socrates that is not contradicted by him either at once or later on in the same work’ (p. 136). If it is granted that he is making these contradictions on purpose, then it is not clear that we can accept Socrates' superficial meaning here as his true meaning.
THE WAY IN WHICH SOCRATES IS RELIGIOUS: THE EPILOGUE OF THE FIRST SPEECH Of THE APOLOGY
Article first published online: 8 OCT 2009
© 2009 The Author. The Heythrop Journal © 2009 Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 52, Issue 1, pages 2–13, January 2011
How to Cite
MORRIS, T. F. (2011), THE WAY IN WHICH SOCRATES IS RELIGIOUS: THE EPILOGUE OF THE FIRST SPEECH Of THE APOLOGY. The Heythrop Journal, 52: 2–13. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2009.00540.x
- Issue published online: 8 OCT 2009
- Article first published online: 8 OCT 2009
‘Marge, I would appreciate it if you
didn't tell anybody about my busy hands.
Not so much for myself, but I am so
respected that it would damage the town
to hear it.’
–‘The Way We Was,’The Simpsons Season 2
In this exegetical study of the epilogue of Socrates' first speech in the Apology I argue that Socrates is not serious about the superficial meaning of his words from Apology 34b6 through 35b9. I then argue that Socrates is carefully developing ideas between the lines all the way through 35d9. I conclude by showing how these ideas are related to ideas that Plato develops elsewhere.
We should not ignore it when Plato has Socrates make mistakes, and merely pay attention to the results of his argument. We should articulate exactly what is wrong with the argument. When we do so, new issues arise that help us unlock Plato's true meaning.
I THE SUPERFICIAL MEANING OF 34B6-35B9
- Top of page
- I THE SUPERFICIAL MEANING OF 34B6-35B9
- II THE IMPLICIT MEANING
- III RELATIONSHIPS TO OTHER PLATONIC CONCERNS
We shall see that (1) Socrates does not seriously think that his words will assuage the anger of those who might be offended by the difference between the way in which they comported themselves when they were on trial and the way in which Socrates is comporting himself at his trial. (2) He does not really believe that any stranger will think that people who conduct themselves as these jurors have done are unmanly for the specific reason that they are unaware that they will die. (3) He does not seriously think that the jurors should be concerned about their own reputations or the reputation of Athens. Finally, (4) He does not really think that they should show themselves more willing to condemn the crybaby than the man who remains quiet.
i Socrates would not be assuaging the anger of those who wept and begged for mercy
After Socrates finishes defending himself against his charges, he addresses those jurors who may have had recourse to tears and supplications and may have brought their children into the court in an effort to play upon the jury's emotions (34b7-c5). The reason Socrates gives for why he himself does not behave in this way is that there are differences between him and them that would make it bad for the reputation of himself, for the reputation of the jurors, and for the reputation of the entire state (34e2-4).1 These differences are (1) he has reached an old age and (2) he has a reputation for wisdom (34e4). He tells us that it is not relevant whether or not the reputation for wisdom is merited (34e5); his point is merely that it will look bad if someone of reputation were to behave like a crybaby.
This concern for the Athenians' reputation is due to the fact that he has seen other people of reputation weep and plead for mercy and thought that ‘any stranger might say that those Athenians who surpass other Athenians in virtue, men whom they themselves honor with offices and other marks of esteem, are no better than women’ (35a9-b3). Such a stranger would be making a mistake in thinking that reputation necessarily corresponds to relative virtue, for in his investigations Socrates found that reputation was inversely proportional to virtue: ‘those who had the greatest reputation seemed to me all but the most deficient’ (22a3-5). Indeed, Socrates has just acknowledged the possibility that his own reputation for being superior might be undeserved (34e5).
Furthermore the fact that these other men of reputation were honored by their fellow Athenians with offices and other marks of esteem is irrelevant to Socrates' case because Socrates was not so honored. The opposite is true: what will bring about his conviction is that the people of Athens were prejudiced against him and disliked him (28a7-9). If we esteem someone who turns out to be no better than a woman (to use Socrates' phrase) that would reflect negatively upon us – we would be seeing ourselves as inferior to this lowly being. But if Socrates turned out to be inferior, rather than reflecting negatively upon his fellow Athenians, it would tend to corroborate their judgment in not honoring him with offices and other marks of esteem. This crybaby's reputation for superiority was not due to us.
While Socrates seems to be trying to assuage the anger of those who might be offended because they did not act like him, he is really calling their behavior womanly. He is insulting them much more directly than he did in the original (unspoken of) contrast between his comportment and theirs. They are much more likely to be angry with him now than before. Surely the shame they would feel at having their behavior called womanly in front of everyone in the courtroom would be greater than the shame that falls upon them indirectly as a result of their city's shame.
Socrates wants them to think that, because they are nobodies, their unmanly behavior does not affect the reputation of their city, while someone like Socrates acting in such a way would cause people to think less of the city and consequently of its citizens. Socrates' position is ridiculous; it is clearly more shameful to act in an unmanly way than to be a citizen of a state that honors men who act in unmanly ways.2 For example, not everyone in America necessarily honored George W. Bush. Thus, even though Bush may have acted in unmanly ways and caused me to look bad in the eyes of citizens of other states, these people would still have an awareness that the shame might not truly apply to me. It is thus fatuous of Socrates to imply that his reputation and age would make his acting like a crybaby have a greater impact on their reputations than they themselves acting like crybabies.
Being a crybaby would also hurt Socrates' reputation much more than being a citizen of a state that honors crybabies. Thus the only real difference Socrates' age and reputation would make is that it would cause his crybaby behavior to have an effect on the reputation of the city as a whole.
By drawing attention to the fact that these people do not have the sort of reputation that he has, Socrates would further tend to work against his supposed purpose of assuaging their anger. For example, in the Laches Lysimachus and Melesias cannot help feeling ashamed of themselves because they are not notable men (Laches 179c6-d1). For such people the comparison with Socrates will increase their sense of shame, and consequently tend to increase the offense they take. Socrates is supposedly arguing for the sake of the jury that they not reject what is sent to them from God (30d6-e1), but now he seems to be trying to get them to reject him.
ii Any stranger would not think that the crybabies do not even know they will die
The reason why such behavior would be considered womanly by any stranger is that people who do it ‘seem to fancy that they were going to suffer something dreadful if they died, and they could be immortal if you only allowed them to live’ (35a4-7).3 You don't even know you are going to die? How unmanly.
Socrates does not explain why his age should add to the disgrace that Athens would suffer, but this is made clear in the Crito: ‘I should be quite out of harmony with my situation, if at my age I were vexed that my life would soon end’ (43b10-11). As he will point out at Apology 38c5-7, he is so old that he will die soon anyway. An older person ought to be especially aware that being spared in the present does not mean that he will live forever. Thus the reason why Socrates' age would be a factor that increases the city's disgrace is that it would make greater the disgrace of Socrates' not knowing that he is going to die.
When Socrates contrasted his behavior with that of the crybabies, he pointed out that he is ‘supposedly in the greatest danger’ (34c6-7) – thus implying that the jurors in question sacrificed their manhood for lesser things than that which he is now faced with losing. Surely Plato wants us to think of 29a5-6, where Socrates claimed that to fear death is to think oneself wise when one is not. There Socrates observed that men generally think of death as the greatest of evils (29a9-b1). That would be the reason he is supposedly in the greatest danger.4 Any members of the jury who suppose that old Socrates is now at his trial facing the greatest of dangers are out of touch with the fact that we will all die sooner or later.
The significance of the fact that ‘any stranger’ would think that the crybabies are no better than women would be that it would make no difference what culture the stranger might be from. The dialogue has previously indicated a concern for the fact that cultures convey values to their citizens. For example, the sophists are said to get young men to leave their fellow citizens, by whom they are taught for free (19e4-20a2). Our fellow citizens teach us the values of our particular culture by the way they act (see Protagoras 327e1-328a1). Similarly when Meletus affirms that the laws, the customs, and all the people of Athens improve the young people (24d9-25a11), he is concerned with how his particular culture conveys its values to its young people.5
Of course, the crybaby would have an understanding that everyone does eventually die, but his behavior makes evident that he has forgotten this fact. For example, if there were an insane student with a gun in the hallway, most of us would surely be thinking that everything would be fine if we could just get out of the building. Perhaps a Socrates would not feel such desperation – especially if he were old and knew he would die soon anyway – but surely most of us would see ourselves as escaping death.
There are no doubt many cultures that would consider crybaby behavior unmanly, but it is certainly not true that all cultures would feel that it is the implicit failure to be aware that one will eventually die that makes that behavior unmanly. The stranger's judgment of unmanliness would have to apply to anyone who is desperate in the face of immanent death – not merely to those who act like crybabies in court.
There is another reason why it is not true that any stranger would think that acting like a crybaby would be unmanly for the specific reason that it shows a lack of knowledge that one will die. Forgetting that we will die is a very common phenomenon, no matter what city you might be from. We are generally like Keats' bees who think that warm days will never cease (To Autumn, 9–10). We go from flower to flower, oblivious of the fact that it will all come to an end. If we remembered our own death, we would not, for example, think it is important when our local sports team wins a game; the significance of our immanent death would dwarf the significance of the game. To the extent that someone on his deathbed still cares about the local sports team, that person is like Hamlet, who, even though he realizes that he is dying, still cares about his reputation (Hamlet 5.2.327-8). Hamlet has (once again) failed to get the big picture; even though he is about to go to the next world, he is still caught up in the petty concerns of this world. According to Socrates most of us have lost the big picture and care too much about such trivial matters as money, reputation, and position (see 29d7-e3). This would surely be true of most any stranger as well.
iii Socrates' would not really be concerned with reputation
The reason Socrates gives for why it would be wrong for him to be a crybaby is simply the consequent effect that his age and reputation would have upon his reputation, his fellow citizens' reputation and the reputation of the city (34e2-35a1). He does not have a problem with the unmanly behavior, but merely with the consequent harm to their various reputations. This is quite out of keeping with Apology 29d7-e3 and 30a7-b2, where Socrates says that we should care about our souls rather than about our reputation or what belongs to us. He now seems to be implying that it does not matter what one does to oneself apart from any harm one might do to one's reputation. To the extent that the jury takes Socrates' argument seriously, Socrates would be getting them to care about what he has emphasized that they should not care about.
iv The jurors should not show themselves more ready to condemn the crybaby
Socrates concludes his discussion of what it would do to their reputations if Athenian men of reputation were to act like crybabies by saying, ‘You should make it clear that you will be much more ready to condemn the man who puts before you such pitiable scenes and makes the city ridiculous than one who keeps quiet’ (35b6-9). (Note that finding Socrates innocent would tend to make this clear). But, as Socrates will shortly point out, the jury has taken an oath to judge according to the laws (35c2-5). If they were to condemn people for the sake of trying to preserve their reputations, they would not be judging according to the laws. The jury should not let any other considerations override the question of whether or not the accused party is guilty – let alone consideration of their own reputations. The reason for showing themselves more willing to condemn the crybaby would be to deter other people of reputation from behaving like crybabies in the future. If they were to follow Socrates' advice, then they would be making the establishment of this sort of climate more important than judging according to the laws.
II THE IMPLICIT MEANING
- Top of page
- I THE SUPERFICIAL MEANING OF 34B6-35B9
- II THE IMPLICIT MEANING
- III RELATIONSHIPS TO OTHER PLATONIC CONCERNS
i Subjectively appropriating knowledge or belief
Our critical involvement with the text has led us to two understandings of ‘knowing.’ There is knowing that you are going to die and KNOWING that you are going to die. You don't really KNOW that you are going to die unless it influences what you care about. If a Socrates should come around and show you that the things that you care about lose their significance in light of the fact that you will die – for example, by pointing out that you cannot take your money with you – then you would have the opportunity to KNOW that you are going to die.
Socrates goes on to introduce two types of believing that correspond to these two types of knowing. He says that he would be teaching the jury that there are no gods if ‘by force of persuasion and entreaty I could overpower your oaths’ (35d3-5). If he were to do so he would be getting them to forget about the duty they owe to the gods because of their oath, and instead do him a favor according to their fancy (35c4-5). Of course the jury would still believe in the gods – they would not have suddenly become atheists – but they would not BELIEVE in the gods; their belief would not affect what they care about. The person who to really KNOWS that he is going to die has not allowed other objects of desire to lead him to lose perspective. The person who really BELIEVES in the gods will not lose perspective and care about things like reputation or doing a favor to a pathetic defendant rather than care about being faithful to the gods.6
There are other instances of Plato similarly distinguishing between two different meanings for the same word. At 37c3-4 Socrates says that he has no money with which to pay a fine, but at 38b3-5, he says: ‘I have no money, unless you are willing to impose a fine which I could pay. I might perhaps pay a mina of silver.’ Socrates does not have MONEY, but he does have money. He does not have real money, but he does have money. (Platonic scholars has had great difficulty with 30b2-4, because they often think Socrates is saying that from virtue comes real money, when the money that comes from virtue would be the sort of money that the virtuous Socrates really did have).7 Just as there is money and real money, there is knowing and really knowing, and believing and really believing.
When Socrates says that we should remain where we have been stationed or where we have stationed ourselves and consider neither death nor anything else more than disgrace (28d5-9), he is not talking about the disgrace of being from a city that honors people who turn out to be crybabies (35a1-3). He is talking about real DISGRACE. Unmerited disgrace is not something we should be concerned about at all: ‘My dear Crito, why do we care so much for what the many think? For the most fair-minded men, whose opinion is more worthy of consideration, will think that things were done as they really will be done’ (Crito 44c6-9). The DISGRACE we should consider when we do something is disgrace in the eyes of such fair-minded people.
At Lysis 210b5-6 Socrates says that if someone with a property right to something gives that thing to someone who really understands it, that person with understanding owns the thing because he derives delight from it. There is owning and then there is OWNING. The person who really owns the horse is the person who can really interact with it.
Similarly at Republic 400e1-3 distinguishes between the goodness of character of a bonhomme and a GOODNESS OF CHARACTER that is well and truly established.
In any case, it seems obvious that Plato wanted us to see the correlation between the two types of knowing and the two types of belief. Otherwise one would have to say that it is merely a coincidence that the difference between knowing and KNOWING and also the difference between believing and BELIEVING is the difference between not subjectively appropriating something and subjectively appropriating it. When you have subjectively appropriated some knowledge or some belief, it influences what you care about.
When Socrates goes on to say that he believes in the gods more than do any of his accusers (35d7-8), he is indicating that he BELIEVES in the gods, while his accusers merely believe.8 He is indicating that he has not forgotten about the gods, but has them in mind as he goes about his life. He does what he does as a service to the gods, just as the jury would be serving the gods if they kept them in mind instead of being harsh (or lenient) to a crybaby because he is a crybaby.9 We might go to church, and then, for a while, we might think about God as we go about our daily lives, but most of us lose that perspective as the minutes, hours, and days go by. To the extent that we believe in a higher sense, we carry that perspective with us.
At Phaedrus 276a5-9 Socrates and Phaedrus distinguish between the living word, written with intelligence in the soul of the learner, and the mere written word that is an image of the living word. The lack of the living word is exemplified in the Meno by the slave's superficial understanding of the fact that the way to double a square is to square the diagonal. After the slave has witnessed Socrates' demonstration of the geometrical proof, Socrates observes, ‘those opinions have just been stirred up in him as in a dream; but if he were repeatedly asked these same questions in a variety of ways, you know he will in the end have as exact an understanding of them as anyone’ (Meno 85c9-d1). To receive the living word into his soul, the slave needs to do more than just repeat what he has been told. If he were to approach the problem in numerous ways, he would eventually be able to see the underlying relationships. Until he does, even though he knows the right answer he does not really comprehend it. Similarly if the knowledge that one will die has really entered one's soul, one is not going to forget about it when the local sports team scores some points. The person who really KNOWS is the person who has received the living word into his or her soul.
ii The present situation is from the god
At 28b6-c1 Socrates claims that the only thing that a person who is good for something should think about is whether he does right or wrong and whether his acts are those of a good person or a bad person. He gives the following reason for this demand that we never look out for ourselves at the expense of doing what we take to be right (that we never act with an ulterior motive): ‘For (gar) wherever a man stations himself … or is stationed by his commander there he must, as it seems to me, remain and run his risks, considering neither death nor any other thing more than disgrace’ (28d5-9) – i.e., the true DISGRACE of having acted wrongly. Thus, unless one finds oneself in a situation just by chance – unless one has not placed oneself in a situation or been placed their by a commander – trying to do what is right amounts to standing one's ground, not turning away from the present situation toward the future in an effort to make some possible future situation be the way one thinks would be preferable.10
Socrates seems to be implying that we never find ourselves in situations just by chance, for if that were to happen, we would have lost our reason for being concerned only with the justice of our action. He, at least, never finds himself in situations by chance, for he says that he is stationed in his situations by the god (28e4-5). Thus for Socrates it is not merely a matter of not fearing death or anything else more than the disgrace; it is also a matter of not fearing anything else more than not serving the god. He tries to do what is just for the sake of serving the god, and thus he qualifies as BELIEVING in the god.
The idea that he has been put into situations by the god would certainly help Socrates keep the god in mind as he responds to his present situation. It almost seems as if he has an unfair advantage in the effort to live life without ulterior motive. He does, however, indicate that other people's situations sometimes come from the god. He says to the jury that if they kill him, ‘you would pass the rest of your lives in slumber, unless the god, in his care for you, should send someone else to sting you’ (31a6-8). Because he has been sent to the jury by the god, the jury's situation in this particular moment in the courtroom has come to them from the god. Hence Socrates says, ‘I am now making my defense not from my own sake, as one might imagine, but far more for yours, that you may not by condemning me err in your treatment of the gift the god gave you’ (30d6-e1). If they condemn Socrates then, rather than standing their ground in the situation in which the god has placed them, they will be turning away from the present trying to bring about some future state of affairs. Socrates is using his time in the courtroom to try to make the jury stand their ground in the present.
The epilogue of the first speech of the Apology makes clear that Socrates thinks that the god is not just sending a situation to the jury in that particular moment in the courtroom, but that the god is continually sending each one of us our present situation. True to his orientation toward the god, Socrates concludes, ‘To you and to the god I commit my case, to be determined by you as is best for you and for me’ (35d8-9).11 How can Socrates be sure that the jury will decide the case as will be best for all concerned? Socrates himself does not know if it will be good for him or for the jury if he were to succeed in ridding them of the prejudice against him which was instilled in them in their childhood (19a2-4). He is certainly not trusting that the jury will rise to the occasion and find him not guilty, for he will tell us that he had had expected to be found guilty (35e1-36a5). How can Socrates be sure that even a guilty verdict would be best for him and for the jury? Because Socrates' situations come to him from the god, he could be confident that his next situation would be the best possible situation for him to be in because it too would be from the god.12 But how can Socrates be sure that the 500 members of the jury, who will be rejecting the gift the god has sent them, will find themselves in the best possible situation for them as well? The god does not neglect the affairs of a good man in this world or the next (Apology 41c9-d2), but the god would not have any reason for being especially concerned with these particular 500. Thus it is implied that Socrates thinks that the god is continually sending each one of us (whether good or bad) our present situation, and therefore that each one of us continually finds him or herself in the best possible situation.13
You might have suffering in your situation; you might imagine situations which you presume would be better for you than your present situation; but you do not know. Socrates claims at Republic 613a4-7, ‘whether the just person fall into poverty or disease or any other supposed evil, for him all these things will finally prove good, both in life and in death.’ Our present passage in the Apology indicates that this would be true for the unjust person as well.
It is fitting that Socrates should follow up his claim that he believes in the god more than his accusers do by implicitly affirming that all of our situations come from the god. Indeed the two affirmations are two parts of the same compound sentence. He is doing more than merely affirming that he is motivated by a desire to serve the god. He is indicating that in that present moment in the courtroom he is oriented toward the god – in that present moment in the courtroom he is seeing his situation as coming from the god. And so, of course, he is going to try to serve the god in response.
III RELATIONSHIPS TO OTHER PLATONIC CONCERNS
- Top of page
- I THE SUPERFICIAL MEANING OF 34B6-35B9
- II THE IMPLICIT MEANING
- III RELATIONSHIPS TO OTHER PLATONIC CONCERNS
The Apology gives no grounds for why we must never have ulterior motives, why we must be continually concerned with responding justly to our present situation and not be concerned with the future consequences of our actions to ourselves and ours. But this same claim is deduced in the Crito from the principle that injustice damages the soul (47e6-48d5).14 The way in which injustice harms the soul is indicated at Republic 485d6-8: ‘We surely know that when a man's desires set strongly in one direction, in every other channel they flow more feebly. It is as if a stream had been diverted into another bed.’ When we desire something, especially with passion, we make a little deeper the channel in our soul toward that sort of thing; we build up a predisposition to desire the same sort of thing again. Thus we are less likely to desire other things; the flow in the channels in our souls for other things becomes more and more feeble as the waters of our desire flow through, and continue to deepen, the deeper channel. If we allow ourselves to desire ulterior motives, we are in danger of ruining our fragile souls by eventually becoming fixated on similar motives.15 (Note that the problem that Socrates has with the jury breaking their oath is not simply that they will be breaking their oaths: ‘we ought not to get you into the habit of breaking your oaths, nor ought you to fall into that habit’ [35c5-6]. Socrates' concern is for the consequent effects upon their souls rather than for the individual case of lack of faithfulness.)
On the other hand, never having ulterior motives is a risky way to live. Surely many people would lose their jobs if they stopped looking out for themselves and just tried to do what is right, letting the chips fall where they may. (For example, when a friend of mine worked in a bookstore, the owner of the store wanted him to push trashy passion-in-the-South fiction. My friend knew these were not good books for his customers to read, but if he did not sell any of them, he could well lose his job). If I do not look out for myself, who will? I do not want my family to end up homeless. Can't I compromise? Why do I have to be a hero even in small things? What if doing the right thing really would not make much of a difference to anyone but could have disastrous consequences upon my career? Why do I always have to be the goody-goody? Why can't I compromise sometimes? Socrates' response would be that your soul is fragile; you should not risk making channels in it toward unworthy objects of desire. You could end up living your life for the sake of something meaningless, and have a life not worth living. It seems, then, that we are in a lose-lose situation. Look out for your soul and you seem to lose out on material well-being; look out for material well-being and you risk ruining your soul.
Jesus also taught that we cannot compromise with respect to doing what is right: ‘You cannot serve God and your own financial well-being’ (Matthew 6:24). His reason also has to do with the effect upon the individual: ‘No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other’ (Matthew 6:24). You might think that you can compromise and that it will not have any effect upon you – that it will be like water off a duck's back – but, according to Socrates and Jesus, you would be wrong. That is not the way the human psyche works. Of course, Jesus does not think that the compromiser will be devoted to God and despise financial well-being; he is saying that the compromiser will love financial well-being, and will consequently see God as merely something that gets in the way. Your compromise will cause you to become devoted to that for the sake of which you gave up your commitment to serving God. Jesus' argument relies on a psychological principle similar to Plato's channels in the soul: ‘where you treasure is, there will your heart be also’ (Matthew 6:21).
For Jesus, though, it is not a lose-lose situation:
Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on … But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well
(Matthew 6: 25–33).16
The same idea can be found in Thoreau:
I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do. We may waive just so much care of ourselves as we honestly bestow elsewhere17
And it is Plato's idea as well. After confronting us with the demand that we pursue righteousness, Socrates presents the following as his teaching (if he corrupts the young people it must be with this, for this is all that he teaches [30b4-7]):
I do nothing else but go about urging you not to care about your person or your property more than for the perfection of your souls, or even so much; and I tell you that virtue does not come from money, but from virtue comes money and all other good things to man. (30a7-b4)
If you choose to serve financial security rather than pursue righteousness, of course you will not receive virtue as a consequence; but if you pursue righteousness (in the care of your own soul) you will receive money and all other good things.18 Socrates is not promising riches (real MONEY), but he is promising that you will not lose out on material well-being if you, in your concern for your soul, reject pursuing the good of your body or your property. Life is not a lose-lose proposition.
Jesus rests his assertion that we do not need to be concerned for material things upon a shared understanding of God. ‘Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?’ (Matthew 6:26). Thoreau indicates that his basis is faith, but he gives no explicit reason for why we should have faith:
There is a certain class of unbelievers who sometimes ask me such questions as, if I think that I can live on vegetable food alone; and to strike at the root of the matter at once – for the root is faith – I am accustomed to answer such, that I can live on board nails.19
Socrates rests his teaching upon a supposed understanding to how the divine world works. This can be seen in that he is clearly talking about the same general phenomenon when he claims, ‘I think a divine law prevents a good man from being harmed by a worse’ (30d1-2). He seems to believe in a general divine principle that good people cannot be harmed: they cannot be harmed by a worse person, and they cannot suffer harm from want of material well-being. In telling us that from virtue comes money and all other good things, he is asking us to trust his personal understanding of divine principles.
Socrates' belief would follow as a corollary to the more general principle that the god is sending each one of us the best possible situation. Of course I cannot be harmed by a worse person, if the god is really in charge. And, similarly, of course I will get what I need if I pursue righteousness.
Even though the god is sending each one of us the best possible situation, it is still possible for us to be harmed. Socrates' accusers have been caught by unrighteousness and must abide by their penalty (39b1-7). They are not harmed by what the god sends their way, but by how they respond to their situation. By failing to try to do what is right – by pursuing instead some understanding of what might be good for them in the future – they have further developed bad channels in their souls. As Socrates observes at Crito 46b1-3, passion wrongly directed makes things harder to deal with. The god will send them the best possible situation for them to be in, but by making the bad channels in their souls deeper, they have made things harder for themselves.
Thus Socrates sees the god as continually sending each one of us the best possible situation for us to be in. In response to our situation we can either turn from it toward the future – and try to make the future be the way we, in our ignorance, think will be good for us – or we can turn toward our present situation without ulterior motive and merely try to do what is right. No one knows what will be good in the future. Socrates is aware of his ignorance in this respect. He knows that he does not know if it will be bad for him to die (29a7-9), and that he knows that he does not even know whether or not it will be good for him to win at his trial (19a2-4). This knowledge of his ignorance would free him from trying to make some future situation be the way he thinks might be good. No, Socrates just leaves the future to the god, in the confidence that it will be the best possible situation for him.20 He is thus freed to try to concentrate on doing what is right in his present situation.21
Moreover, in addition to having no reason to turn from his present situation, Socrates has a reason to turn toward it: he believes that he has been stationed in it by the god. That is the reason he will not desert his post (28e4-29a2). This would cause him to live a very intense life. For example, if you really believed that someone was sent to you by the god, you would pay attention when that person talked to you. Socrates' way of believing in the god – actually having the god in mind as the one he is trying to serve – would entail never losing the big picture. It would entail seeing every situation as a chance to serve the god.
Socrates did indeed live a very intense life. Consider Alcibiades' description of Socrates' behavior in the retreat from Delium at Symposium 221a5-c1:
I noticed for one thing how much cooler Socrates was than Laches, and, for another, how he was walking with the same ‘lofty strut and sideways glance’ that he goes about with here in Athens. His ‘sideways glance’ was just as unconcerned whether he was looking at his own friends or at the enemy, and you could see from half a mile away that if you tackled him you would get as good as you gave – with the result that he and Laches both got clean away … It's the man whose one idea is to get away that the other fellow goes for.
Note that this means that Socrates goes about the streets of Athens with a look that in battle shows you that you would have a fight on your hands! Socrates is a man who is all there in the present, ready to deal with whatever the god sends his way, whether it be friend or foe.
Thus Socrates paints a picture of the god continually sending each one of us situations. We can either turn away from our situation in an effort to attain to what we, in our ignorance, think will be good in the future, or we can turn toward that situation and try to respond justly to it. We might all be children of God, but to be a man or woman of God we need to develop the ability to stand our ground in the present. We need to BELIEVE.
Brickhouse & Smith take 34e2-4 to be saying ‘in the light of my reputation and yours and that of the whole city’, rather than ‘for the sake of my reputation and yours and that of the whole city’ (Thomas C. Brickhouse & Nicolas D. Smith, Socrates on Trial [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989], pp. 202–3). Their grounds for reading the passage this way is that they see that it is inconsistent of Socrates to care about reputation after rejecting caring about it (p. 204). But Socrates clearly indicates that he is concerned with the effect on the Athenians' reputation when he goes on to say that the problem with the crybaby's behavior is that it makes their city ridiculous (35b6-9). Moreover, Socrates is differentiating people like himself, who have a superior reputation, from those members of the jury who do not have such a reputation. Thus he would not be using their current, insignificant reputations to explain his actions. While he could say he was doing it for the sake of their (future) reputations, he could hardly he was doing it in the light of their (current, insignificant) reputations.
2 Brickhouse & Smith observe, ‘Surely Socrates thinks such behavior is disgraceful even when it is practiced by those who are renowned for their villainy’ (Brickhouse & Smith, Socrates, p. 203).
3 West is not in accord with the text when he says, ‘what is truly shameful and ridiculous is precisely the excessive love of one's own which leads to the unmanly compulsion to save one's life at the expense of honor’ (Thomas G. West, Plato's Apology of Socrates, [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979], p. 204). It is explicitly the lack of knowledge that one will die that is found by the stranger to be shameful and ridiculous. Moreover, bringing out the family is not done for the sake of the defendant's family (‘his own’), but merely as a tactic in the defendant's effort to save his life. His children are brought forward ‘to arouse compassion’ (34c4-5).
4 Dyer & Seymour see that ‘Of course Socrates himself is far from believing that the risk he runs is desperate’ (Louis Dyer & Thomas Day Seymour, Apology of Socrates and Crito [Boston: Ginn, 1908], p. 94). Burnet also notes this (John Burnet, Plato's Euthyphro Apology of Socrates and Crito [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924]. p. 145).
5 Redfield ( A Lecture on Plato's Apology’, The Journal of General Education 15 [1963–1964], pp. 93–108 [here pp. 102–3]), Taylor (A.E. Taylor, Plato, the Man and his Work [London: Methuen, 1960], p. 163), and Sesonske ( , ‘To Make the Weaker Argument the Stronger’, Journal of the History of Philosophy 6 , pp. 217–231 [here p. 228]) see that this is what Meletus is talking about., ‘
West thinks that the fact that Meletus says ‘the laws’ (oi nomoi) indicates that he looks to the established conventions of the political community for his guidance' (Plato's Apology, p. 137). But, because nomoi also refers to the customs of Athens, it would not merely be a question of looking to political conventions.
6 Reeve sees that it would not be a question of the jury becoming atheists, but he takes ‘belief’ to refer to ‘behaving in ways that show or fail to show proper acknowledgment of the god's existence’ (C.D.C. Reeve, ‘Socrates the Apollonian?’ in Nicholas D. Smith & Paul Woodruff [eds.], Reason and Religion in Socratic Philosophy [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000], pp. 24–39 [here p. 28]). (This lack of proper acknowledgement is what he takes Meletus' original charge of not believing in the gods to refer to.) Reeve thinks that Socrates believes more than his accusers because ‘by unjustly bringing him to trial they show that they do not [believe]’ (p. 28). But, if Reeve were correct, Socrates would go on to say that he believes while his accusers do not – he would not say that he believes more than they do.
7 See On Apology 30b3-5: From Virtue Comes Money and all Other Good Things for Men’, The Ancient World 34 (2003), pp. 43–55 (here, pp. 45–46)., ‘
8 West is not in accord with what Socrates says when he holds that Socrates does not revere the gods of the jury and that the jury's gods will prevail ‘for the moment’ (Plato's Apology, p. 206). McPherran similarly thinks that Socrates is distinguishing between belief in different gods (Mark L. McPherran, ‘Does Piety Pay? Socrates and Plato on Prayer and Sacrifice’, in Nicholas D. Smith & Paul Woodruff [eds.], Reason and Religion in Socratic Philosophy, [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000], pp. 89–114 [here p. 101]). But the gods that Socrates is referring to must include Zeus, Poseidon, and Demeter, for they are the gods by whom the jury took their oath (Demosthenes 24.149-51).
Reeve mistakes a necessary condition for believing in the gods in Socrates' way for a sufficient condition when he writes, ‘By eschewing such a defense, he shows himself nomizein [believing in] the gods’ (Reeve, Socrates, p. 28). While a believer would not play on the jury's emotions, the failure to do so does not show that one is a believer. Weiss makes the same mistake ( For Whom the Daimonion Tolls’, Apeiron 38 , pp. 81–96 [here p. 94])., ‘
Destrée goes beyond the text when he claims that Socrates ‘alone is a true believer in the gods’ ( The Daimonion and the Philosophical Mission: Should the Divine Sign Remain Unique to Socrates?’, Apeiron 38 , pp. 63–80 [here, p. 75]). Socrates does no more than differentiate his belief from that of his accusers., ‘
9 As the Euthyphro indicates, a pious person wants to accomplish what the gods want to have accomplished (see Plato's Euthyphro,’ The Heythrop Journal 21 , pp. 309–323)., ‘
10 Dag Hammarskjold similarly writes, ‘Life only demands from you the strength you possess. Only one feat is possible – not to have run away’ (Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, Leif Sjoberg & W. H. Auden, [trans.], [New York: Knopf, 1964], p. 4). The same idea can be found in Thoreau (‘In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time … to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and the future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line’ Henry David Thoreau, Walden [Cutchogue: Buccaneer Books, 1986], p. 16). Keats writes, ‘I have no doubt that thousands of people never heard of have hearts completely disinterested: I can remember but two – Socrates and Jesus – their Histories evince it’ (in Herbert Spiegelberg, The Socratic Enigma [Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, 1964], p. 95).
11 Brickhouse & Smith distort the text when they turn it into a conditional statement: ‘If they decide the case in accordance with their oath, and judge according to the truth, they will do what is best for everyone concerned’ (Thomas C. Brickhouse & Nicholas D. Smith, The Routledge Philosophy GuideBook to Plato and the Trial of Socrates [New York: Routledge, 2004], p. 158).
12 Zeller sees that this passage indicates that Socrates had ‘the absolute trust in God which led him to see the divine will even in the wrongs that men did to him’ (Eduard Zeller, Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy, L.R. Palmer [trans.], [London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963]. p. 104).
13 The view that we are placed at our post by God is basic to Martin Buber's dialogical way of life, to Locke's political philosophy (Of Civil Government, Book II, Chapter 11, Section 6) and to Epictetus (Encheiridion 22).
Shorey (Paul Shorey, What Plato Said [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1933]. p. 464) and Blakeney (Edward Henry Blakeney, The Apology of Socrates [London: The Scholartis Press, 1929]. p. 132) do well to quote Tennyson's Lucretius:
Lend an ear to Plato where he says
That men like soldiers my not quit the post
Allotted by the gods.
14 Socrates' Ground for Believing in Absolute Truth’, Dialogos 88 (2006), 153–170 (here pp. 163–5)..
15 See ‘How Crito Ruins His Soul’’, The Ancient World 29 (1999), 47–58..
16 Livingstone notes this parallel with Matthew 6:33 (R. W. Livingstone, Portrait of Socrates (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938), p. 26).
17 Thoreau, Walden, p. 12.
18 On Apology 30b3-5: From Virtue Comes Money and all Other Good Things for Men’, The Ancient World 34 (2003), pp. 43–55..
19 Thoreau, Walden, p. 49.
20 Socrates thus conforms to Heraclitus' understanding of wisdom: ‘To be wise is one thing, to be acquainted with true judgment, how all things are steered through all’ (Fr. 41); and ‘Thunderbolt steers all things’ (Fr. 64).
21 As Krishnamurti observes, ‘When you yourself are not ambitious, not acquisitive, not clinging to your own security – only then can you respond to the challenge’ (Jiddu Krishnamurti, ‘The Function of Education’, in Manuel Velasquez, (ed.), Philosophy A Text with Readings, [Belmont: Wadsworth, 1994], pp. 45–7 (here p. 47).