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Socratic Reason and Socratic Revelation MARK L. MCPHERRAN IN MANYLONGSTANDINGand influential interpretations of his views, Socrates is portrayed as a figure of our own Enlightenment: a consummate intellectualist, whose "paradoxical" view that "virtue is knowledge" grounds a moral theory that takes discursive rationality as our only trustworthy guide in life. This version of Socrates--as opposed to what I consider the more accurate one-has him conducting his mission of moral inquiry by one method alone: the "elenctic" examination of belief-consistency by the interrogation of an interlocutor . For this Socrates, then, extrarational religious experiences do not contribute significantly to the pursuit of the "examined life." Hence, it is not surprising that some advocates of this portrait have understood Socrates to have been a kind of atheist or agnostic, and his positive references to divine beings and "signs" are thus construed as examples of his infamous irony.' This portrait, however, results from overlooking and misinterpreting the wealth of evidence for a religious Socrates, a man who takes as his guide in matters great and small (Ap. 4oa4-6) the promptings of a supernatural voice (the daimonion) and who has a special calling to do philosophy because "to do this [philosophizing] has been commanded [prostetaktai] of me... by the god through oracles and through dreams [ek mantei6n kai ex enupni6n] and by every other means in which a divinity has ever commanded [prosetaxe]anyone to do anything" (Ap. 33c4-7; cf. 3oa5). The thesis that we ought to take such textual evidence seriously is one ' See, e.g., L. Versenyi, Holiness andJustice (Washington, D.C., 1982). See also M. Nussbaum, "Commentary on Edmunds," in J. Cleary, ed., Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy [PBACAP] i 0985): 234-35, and A. Nehamas, "Socratic Intellectualism," in Cleary, ed,, PBACAP ~ 0986): 3o5-3o6, who attempt to explain away Socrates' trust in divination. Many commentators, however, elect to underplay, rather than deny, Socratic reliance on the extrarational ; e.g., one finds very little mention of dreams and the daimonion in T. Irwin, Plato's Moral Theory (Oxford, 1977), and G. Santas, Socrates (Boston, 1979). [345] 346 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 29:3 JULY 1991 worth arguing for in detail, something I cannot do here. ~ Instead, I shall simply assume that a somewhat traditionally religious Socrates is our best historical bet, in order to explore a problem engendered by this assumption,s namely, given that Socrates is not only a rationalistic philosopher, but accepts (in some sense) traditional incursions by the divine, how are we to reconcile the two opposed epistemological commitments implicit in these two aspects of the one man? Again, in his purely intellectualist guise, Socrates informs us (in word and deed) that we must only be persuaded by the best reason (logos), and it is natural to take this as meaning the secular ratiocination provided by Socrates' characteristic elenctic method (employing both syllogistic and epagogic [analogical] reasoning).4 As he puts it at Crito 46b4-6: C Not now for the first time, but always, I am the sort of man who is persuaded by nothing except the reason [t6 log6] that seems best to me when I reason [logizomen6] about the matter. But in our most reliable recreations of Socratic thought, the early Platonic dialogues, the elenchus fails to secure any complete Socratic definitions of the virtues. Socrates himself constantly confirms these results by proclaiming that he is entirely ignorant of expert moral knowledge and is simply "aware of being wise in nothing, great or small" (Ap. 2 lb2-5). This attitude of rationalistic skepticism and the commitment to reason testified to by C are thus very much in striking contrast with the attitude underlying Socrates' reliance on oracles, dreams, and the daimonion. Socrates never explains how he can be sure that he is not the victim of religious hallucinations, and at first glance we may see little rational justification for his religion-based claims. Moreover, his acceptance of theological postulates and extrarational indicators seems to fly in the face of his philosophical grilling, and repudiation, of the religion-based claims of others (e.g., Euthyphro). To defuse this apparent paradox--and thus reconcile the rationalistic, skeptical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 345-373
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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