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Harding’s chapter examines the Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, and Crito, focusing on Socrates’ philanthropic moderation of Euthyphro in order to establish that Socrates’ motivation in that discussion is at least in part philanthropic. Harding subsequently argues that the motives for Socrates’ weak defense in the Apology are ultimately philanthropic, a fact which comes to light more fully in the Crito.
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Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Abteilung 6, Band 1, Also sprach Zarathustra: ein Buch für Alle und Keinen, ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari (Berlin: DeGruyter, 1968), 6–7.
All quotations of these three dialogues are taken from the translations presented in Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West, Four Texts on Socrates: Revised Edition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998).
On “instant mind,” see Marlo Lewis Jr., “An Interpretation of Plato’s Euthyphro,” in Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy 13.1 (January 1985): 33–66.
On this note, many of his responses seem to emphasize his own subjectivity, especially starting at 11e.
Some might suggest that Euthyphro is motivated by anger at his father not for this injustice, but for consulting the exegetes in Athens rather than Euthyphro himself, who is, we know, a self-proclaimed expert in such things. While such a motive is plausible and possible for one such as Euthyphro, I do not find a warrant for such a view in the dialogue.
Richard J. Klonoski suggests that Euthyphro’s Homeric fundamentalism is at odds with the common Athenian view of such matters. See Klonoski, “The Portico of the Archon Basileus: On the Significance of the Setting of Plato’s ‘Euthyphro,’” in The Classical Journal, 81.2 (December 1985–January 1986): 130–137. Klonoski describes Euthyphro as a “man of strange, confused and very ancient religious beliefs” (134).
This, incidentally, undermines the claims of readers such as William D. Furley, (“The Figure of Euthyphro in Plato’s “Dialogue,”” Phronesis 30.2 (1985): 201–208) that Euthyphro is “a high priest of the conventional dogma” (205), and G. M. A. Grube, “Euthyphro,” in Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo—Second Edition (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2002), who suggests that Euthyphro is “a professional priest,” an “expert on ritual and on piety,” and “generally” regarded as being such (Grube, Five Dialogues, 2, note 1). When experts who are generally regarded as experts speak on their area of expertise, they are not usually mocked.
Consider Adeimantus’s presentation of the moral implications of Greek piety in Republic II. When Euthyphro pronounces piety to be an art of commerce with the gods, he does not realize, as the far more thoughtful Adeimantus does, that this view undermines the need to be just: it is better to be Tony Soprano and pay the gods to forgive you out of your ill-gotten largesse. Note also that some have rejected this view of Euthyphro as being good-natured or mostly harmless—for example, Jonathan Adler and Iakovos Vasiliou, “Inferring Character from Reasoning: The Example of Euthyphro,” in American Philosophical Quarterly 45.1 (January 2008): 43–56. They describe him as “conceited, rigid, brittle, self-righteous, and defensive” (45), which seems a little harsh.
Obviously it is doubtful whether he ever held to that notion; his earlier discussions of how he will learn from Euthyphro in order to defend himself in court strike me as possessing a tone of gentle and mocking irony mixed with some degree of affection. One also cannot help but wonder: given the shocking nature of Euthyphro’s intention to indict his father, has Socrates already heard of it through the Athenian gossip mills?
Marlo Lewis Jr. notes that when Socrates gets to his discussion of piety as care ( therapeia), the examples he gives all follow a certain structure: hippikei is the care of the hippoi (horses); kunegetike is the care of the kunes (dogs); boelatike or herdsmanship is the care of boes or cattle. Euthyphro agrees to all of this. Marlo Lewis Jr. notes that on this basis, if there were a care of the gods, it would be theotikes, or “godsmanship”—as nonexistent in English as in Greek (Lewis, “An Interpretation,” 52–53).
Marlo Lewis Jr., “An Interpretation,” suggests that this shows, when we consider traditional Greek ideas about the gods, that “piety… is the art of taming and controlling the gods for our benefit. Its modern counterpart is the conquest and domestication of nature by means of scientific technology;” further, piety is not a virtue if the gods are not benefactors, and Socrates, per Lewis, implicitly has argued that they are not (pp. 54–55).
Cf. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Books 1–5. Translated by R. D. Hicks (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1925), II.28.
As mentioned above, the “mostly harmless” Euthyphro does not recognize the implications of the view of piety as commerce. For a radical statement of what this understanding really implies, see Republic 363a–366a; also see note 7 above.
Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers II.29.
Against the view that the emergence of the philosopher depends on external circumstances, one might object that the philosopher is a natural type not dependent upon antecedent conditions, appealing to accounts found in the Republic. There are of course difficulties with such an appeal (on the difficulties with these accounts, see Roslyn Weiss, Philosophers in the Republic : Plato’s Two Paradigms. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012). More importantly, though, even if the philosopher is a natural type, there is no guarantee that this natural type will “become what it is.” The parallels offered in the Republic between the soul of the philosopher and that of the tyrant serve to illustrate this rather well (recall the last lines of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94: “For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds; Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds”). Such a nature emerges by chance, but as the image of the cave emphasizes, there are powerful obstacles, both political and natural, to even the best nature making a turn toward philosophy. There is a reason that Socrates lives all his life in Athens rather than in a city such as Sparta. The philosophic life may not be truly possible in such a city. The notoriously ugly Socrates would likely have been put to death, and the “uselessness” (cf. Thomas G. West, Plato’s Apology of Socrates (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979), 210) of Socratic activity would not have been long tolerated among the austere Spartans (cf. Hippias Major 283b–286b, where it becomes apparent that the only learning the Spartans are interested in receiving from Hippias concerns the genealogies of heroes).
The entire discussion of the Oracle is fraught with difficulties. The dead Chaerephon is said to have gone to the Oracle to ask if anyone was wiser than Socrates. The Oracle says no one is wiser. Socrates’ use of the oracle through the Apology is quite interesting, as the significance and meaning of it continually changes. Consider the manner in which his usage of it varies (cf. 21a–23c); Socrates transforms his doubt about the oracular claim into pious service under a divine command.
Consider also Apology 26d, which is practically an admission of having read the works of Anaxagoras; consider the account of his own intellectual development in the Phaedo as well (especially 98b–e). See also Xenophon, Memorabilia (trans. Amy L. Bonnette. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), IV.7.5–7, in which Socrates rejects the studies of the physiologoi on the ground that they could (a) occupy an entire human life and (b) prevent one from pursuing many things beneficial to a human being.
For example, Thomas G. West, “Introduction,” (in Four Texts) 19, and Thomas G. West Plato’s Apology of Socrates, especially 147–150. Socrates is guilty from the point of view of the city, but as West points out, this is not just grounded in the inadequacy of his speech hitherto: “Socrates seems to go out of his way to boast about himself and to antagonize the jury… Socrates was voted guilty as charged—but for the wrong reasons. It was the judges’ envy, not their understanding of Socrates’ corruption of the young and impiety, which caused them to convict him. This fact, however, does not absolve Socrates from his injustice. Indeed, Socrates must accept responsibility for his judges’ indulgence in envy, since they behave as they do as a direct consequence of his deliberately provocative (because truthful) speech” (West, Plato’s Apology of Socrates, 149).
Cf. Euthyphro 6a.
Cf. West, “Introduction,” in Four Texts, 19–21. Though outside the scope of the Apology itself, the Republic presents a Socrates who reforms Olympian theology to prepare the way for acceptance of the forms and who jettisons even that reformed theology once the forms are introduced, introducing, in effect, new gods into the city. We know that Socrates does not know the truth about the gods—he admits as much at Euthyphro 6a. Are we entitled to say that he knows the truth about the forms? It is difficult to say, and the forms are a notoriously difficult teaching (cf. Leo Strauss, The City and Man. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978, 119). Given that the Republic’s central discussion of the forms is part of the “short road” rather than the longer, perhaps it does not matter—Socrates himself has already admitted the inadequacy of the account. If he does not know the truth about the gods or the forms, why would he offer them as a replacement for the gods? Perhaps he does know the forms, or at least know them better. Alternatively, one might offer a theological teaching (or in this case, a metaphysical teaching) which supported a superior moral teaching regardless of whether one believed it to be true or not. One need not be a believer in any gods to introduce new gods into the city. The doctrine of the forms seems to be intended as a replacement for the gods. Of course, Aristophanes has made the next relevant question clear to us: if the forms are meant to be replacements for the gods, are they adequate? Or is it the case that Socrates, in presenting the forms in the Republic, does much the same thing as the Aristophanic Socrates, who replaces the conventional piety of Strepsiades with the belief in the clouds (who are clearly intended to lampoon the doctrine of the forms)? At the very least, Adeimantus, in the Republic, highlights for us the challenge that Greek piety presents to any teaching on justice or moral virtue, because he highlights the fact that the Greek gods can be bribed—just as Cephalus had suggested in much less blunt language in Republic I, and just as Euthyphro had claimed toward the end of the Euthyphro. Thus, the gods are a way of covering over the truth: Socrates may have told his acquitters that they ought to believe that the gods in no way harm a good man, but Adeimantus’ account of the poets suggests that not only might the gods harm a good man, they might refrain from harming a bad man who does them some benefaction. The gods, like the ring of Gyges’ ancestor, serve to obscure moral reality.
Xenophon, Apology of Socrates (trans. Andrew Patch. In The Shorter Socratic Writings, ed. Robert C. Bartlett. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996), §27. Socrates tells Hermogenes, in Xenophon’s Memorabilia, that his daimon resisted him when he attempted to think through a defense (IV.8.5). A few lines later, Socrates invokes the burdens of old age—failing eyesight, declining wit, slowness in learning, and ease in forgetting; even if one were unaware of such decline, he says, life would be burdensome; for one who recognized such decline, it would be even worse (IV.8.8).
Cf. Apology 24b. See also West & West, Four Texts, 73, note 39; West, Plato’s Apology of Socrates, 134–150; David Leibowitz, The Ironic Defense of Socrates: Plato’s Apology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 129.
One might note in passing that flies in the family Oestridae, of which the gadfly is one, in their larval stages are all parasites internal to mammals (i.e., the horse, or Athens). If Socrates is aware of the life cycle of the gadfly, then Socrates, in choosing this particular and unflattering comparison also suggests (contra Aristophanes) that he is aware of his own dependence upon the city.
We might also consider his proofs of his own justice—the trial of the ship’s captains and the execution of Leon of Salamis. West notes that both of these examples indicate that Socrates is “politically useless” ( Plato’s Apology of Socrates, 210); see also Republic 487b1–d5. Cicero, in On Duties, ed. M. T Griffin and E. M Atkins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), describes this approach to justice as really being a kind of injustice, finding the Platonic account to be insufficient: “They observe one kind of justice, indeed, that they should harm no one else by inflicting injury, but they fall into another; for hindered by their devotion to learning, they abandon those whom they ought to protect” ( On Duties, I.28).
See West, Plato’s Apology of Socrates, 208–209: Socrates says that the outcome of the vote is ouk anelpiston (36a2): “not unexpected” or “not unhoped for.” He is surprised at the closeness of the vote: “his speech turned out to be more persuasive than he expected… The typical juryman is perhaps more tolerant of the philosopher than he ought to be. If the city were healthier, it would have reacted more vigorously against the one attacking its ancestral manner of life” (West, Plato’s Apology, 209). The success of this provocation is indicated by Diogenes Laertius, who says 80 more jurymen voted for execution than had voted for a guilty verdict (cf. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, II.42).
It probably is sincere, given the degree of animosity that presumably underlies his inability to resist calling Socrates an atheist.
See West and West, Four Texts, 91, note 68.
Nietzsche, Human All Too Human, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), II (Assorted Opinions), §94.
This extremely brief discussion of the Crito is heavily indebted to the discussion found in West, “Introduction,” Four Texts, 24–28, and Strauss, “On Plato’s Apology of Socrates and Crito” (in Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).
We can note that while the reader might infer that this is the soul, Socrates does not use the word “soul” in this dialogue. On the importance of this, see West, “Introduction,” Four Texts, 27.
Joseph Cropsey, Plato’s World: Man’s Place in the Cosmos (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 171.
This theme—the relation between a possible natural standard and the claims of authority—emerges in the narratively prior two dialogues as well: in the Euthyphro, the question is whether or not there is a quality (piety) independent of the authority of the gods; in the Apology, whether there is a standard of justice independent of the nomoi of the Athenians. The death of Socrates shows a philosopher willing to submit to the demands of such a possible standard rather than the deficient standard of the city. Socrates chooses natural right over conventional right, and that puts him at odds with the community. Yet he also chooses something not unlike loyalty to the laws of Athens.
Hence the philosophic Numa Pompilius in Plutarch nevertheless announces his new legislation by claiming to have developed it in consultation with a nymph (cf. Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy I.11.1). Recall also Federalist Papers No. 49: even the “most rational government will not find it a superfluous advantage to have the prejudices of the community on its side.”
Recall Nietzsche’s analysis of the need for all life to be bounded by horizons in The Use and Disadvantage of History for Life. There, the problem proves to be a horizon grounded in modern science and philosophy that is destructive of all horizons. The parallel between Nietzsche and Socrates is perhaps obvious: both pursue their projects during periods of crisis. Socrates lives in a time when the burgeoning pre-Socratic enlightenment is undermining the previous answers to moral and political questions (i.e., it is destroying the older Greek horizon by undermining, intentionally or not, the possibility of belief in the gods), and Nietzsche is writing during a time in which modern philosophy and science have brought about the “death of God”—an undermining of the older answers to moral, political, and metaphysical questions.
There is of course a third option: a well-governed city far away, that is, Crete. Some take Aristotle as identifying the Athenian stranger in the Laws as being Socrates: see Aristotle, Politics, 1265a12; also Strauss, What is Political Philosophy? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 31–33. Practically speaking, it does not matter if Socrates escaped: even if he did, it was necessary for the preservation of philosophy that Plato’s poetic art present him as dying.
Date and recipient uncertain; The Private Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin, ed. William Temple Franklin (London: AJ Valey, 1817), Volume I, 279–281.
We might usefully recall that in the last speech of the Apology, Socrates charges those who voted to condemn him with the responsibility for the virtue of his children (41e), thereby suggesting that even though there are fundamental confusions in the mind of the moral man, there is nevertheless something laudatory or desirable about civic or political virtue and that a political education may be better for the young than a philosophical education. Those contradictions or confusions might even usefully be left in place rather than thoroughly debunked, both because of the impossibility of rendering a multitude philosophic and as puzzles by which the nascent philosopher might be entranced and seduced. Thus, the survival of philosophy might require moderating the prejudices of the multitude rather than thoroughly correcting them (if such were even possible).
Consider West, Plato’s Apology of Socrates: “The fact that Meletus cannot distinguish Socrates from the philosopher Anaxagoras supports Socrates’ view that he is being persecuted as philosopher (26d). By putting Socrates on trial, the accusers have attacked philosophy” (157).
Not just any actual regimes either—even the kallipolis is problematic; as Socrates points out, at Republic 413c, in the best case even the rulers will be persuaded by the noble lie, and a regime in which philosophers are forced to rule is not a regime that is simply hospitable to philosophy. Recall also that Socrates called the city of pigs the “true city” ( Republic 369b–372e), and as remarked above, with the exception of the democracy, the regimes described in Republic VIII all prove to be hostile to complete virtue in one or another sense, while democracy is merely indifferent to it, and therefore open to the possibility of philosophy. Christopher Bruell, On the Socratic Education: an Introduction to the Shorter Dialogues (Rowman & Littlfield: Lanham, MD, 1999) notes that Athens is a political community “which recognized a right or obligation to determine the beliefs” of her citizens, “but carried out the task badly” (Bruell , Socratic Education, 155).
As Bruell points out ( Socratic Education, 220), Socrates introduces the speech of the nomoi with the phrase “ hoi nómoi kai to koinòn”—the laws and the many.
Even the modern project of tolerance cannot fully secure philosophy, because communities will always be grounded on what can be shared by the many—opinions—rather than the truth that can only be known (if at all) by the few. The desire to hound the heterodox is a permanent feature of political life: it can be moderated, but not eliminated.
Consider Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), XLVI.46: “Leisure is the mother of philosophy; and Commonwealth, the mother of peace and leisure. Where first were great and flourishing cities, there was first the study of philosophy.”
Consider Rousseau’s Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (in The First and Second Discourses. Trans. by Judith Masters, ed. Roger Masters (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1964)), in this regard: the natural geniuses would be stunted if they’d had preceptors (63); but similarly, such natural geniuses would not be able to fulfill their natural genius without living in a certain kind of political order that allowed for them to pursue what their natures incline them toward.
- Philanthropy in the Action of the Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, and Crito
Michael P. Harding
- Chapter 13