), the celebrated Athenian philosopher, was the son of a statuary of the name of Sophroniscus.
He belonged to the deme Alopece, in the immediate neighbourhood of Athens, and according to the statement of Demetrius Phalereus and Apollodorus, was born in the 4th year of the 77th Olympiad (B. C. 468).
The assumption that he was born ten years later (D. L. 2.45
) is confuted by his expression in the Apology of Plato, that, though he was more than seventy years old, that was his first appearance before a judicial tribunal, since the date of the conviction that ensued is well established (Ol. 95. 1). Whether in his youth he devoted himself to the art of his father, and himself executed the group of clothed Graces which was shown on the Acropolis as a work of Socrates (Paus. 9.35
, comp. 1.22; D. L. 2.19
; Porph. apud Cyrill. cont. Julian.
p. 208, Spanh.), we must leave undecided ; the statements that in his youth he had in turn given himself up to an employment unworthy of a freeman, or even to a licentious life (Aristoxenus, ap. D. L. 2.20
. comp. 19 ; Porphyr. ap. Theodoret. Gr. Affect. Cur.
12.174, ed. Sylb.; comp. Luzac, Lect. Att.
p. 240, &c.), we cannot regard as authenticated. Nevertheless it appears that it was not without a struggle that he became master of his naturally impetuous appetites (Cic. de Fato,
5; Alex. Aphrod. de Fato,
p. 30, ed. Loud.; comp. Aristox. apud Plut. de Herod. Malign.
That he was a disciple of the physiologists Anaxagoras and Archelaus, rests on the evidence of doubtful authorities (D. L. 2.18
, &c., 23, 1.14; Porph. apud Theodoret. l.c.
p. 174; Clem. Alex. Strom.
1.301; Cic. Tusc. Disp.
5.4; Sext. Emp. ad v. Math.
10.360, &c.; comp. C. F. Hermann, de Socratis Magistris et Disciplina juxenili,
Marb. 1837). Plato and Xenophon know nothing of it; on the contrary, in the former (Phaed.
p. 97) Socrates refers his knowledge of the doctrine of Anaxagoras to the book of that philosopher, and in the latter (Xen. Symp,
1.5) he designates himself as self-taught.
But that, while living in Athens, at that time so rich in the means of mental culture, he remained without any instruction, as the disparaging Aristoxenus maintains (Plut. l c.;
comp. Cyrill. c. Julian.
p. 186; Porph. apud Theodoret.
i. p. 8), is confuted by the testimony of Xenophon (Xen. Mem. 4.7.3
) and Plato (Meno,
p. 82, &c.) respecting his mathematical knowledge, and the thankfulness with which he mentions the care of his native city for public education (Plato, Crito,
p. 50). Although he complains of not having met with the wished for instruction at the hands of those whom he had regarded as wise (Plat. Apol.
p. 21; comp. Xen. Oecon.
2. 16), intercourse with the most distinguished men and women of his age could not remain entirely without fruit for one who was continually striving to arrive at an understanding with himself by means of an understanding with others (Plat. Charm.
In this sense he boasts of being a disciple of Prodicus and Connus, of Aspasia and Diotime (Plat. Meno,
p. 96, Cratyl.
p. 384, Menex.
p. 235, Symp.
p. 201), and says that the reason why he so seldom went outside the walls of the city was, that it was only within it that he found instruction by means of intercourse (Plat. Phaedr.
p. 230, comp. Meno,
p. 80, Crito,
p. 52; D. L. 2.22
). Devoted as he was to his native city in love and thankfulness (Plat. Crit.
pp. 50, 51, &c., Apol.
29; Xen. Mem. 3.3.12
, &c., 18, &c.), and faithfully as he fulfilled the duties of a citizen in the field (at Potidaea, Delion, and Amphipolis, Ol. 87. 2 and 89. 1, B. C. 432 and 424) and in the city, he did not seek to exert his influence either as a general or as a statesman; not that he shunned a contest with unbridled democracy (Plat. Apol.
p. 31, &c., Gorg.
pp. 521, 473, de Rep.
vi. p. 496),--for he thoroughly proved his courage, not only in the above-mentioned expeditions (see especially Plat. Symp.
p. 219, &c., comp. Alcib.
p. 194, Apol.
p. 28, Charm. p. 153, Lach.
p. 181; D. L. 2.22
, &c., ib. Menage), but also by the resistance which he offered, first, as president of the Prytaneia, to the unjust sentence of death pronounced against the victors of Arginusae, and afterwards to the order of the Thirty Tyrants for the apprehension of Leon the Salaminian (Plat. Apol.
p. 32; Xen. Mem. 1.1.18
; D. L. 2.24
; comp. Luzac, l.c.
p. 89, &c., 131) ;--but because he entertained the most lively conviction that he was called by the Deity to strive, by means of his teaching and life, after a revival of moral feeling, and the laying of a scientific foundation for it (Plat. Apol.
pp. 30, 31, 33, Euthyph.
p. 2, Gorg.
p. 521; Xen. Mem. 1.6.15
). For this reason an internal divine voice had Warned him against participating in political affairs Plat. Apol.
pp. 31, 36, Gorg.
pp. 473, &c., 521), and therefore the skill requisite for such pursuits had remained undeveloped in him (Plat. Gorg.
p. 474). When it was that he first recognised this vocation, cannot be ascertained; and probably it was by degrees that, owing to the need which he felt in the intercourse of minds of coming to an understanding with himself, he betook himself to the active duties of a teacher. Since Aristophanes exhibited him as the representative of the witlings and sophists in the "Clouds," which was exhibited for the first time in B. C. 423, he must already have obtained a widespread reputation.
But he never opened a school, nor did he, like the sophists of his time, deliver public lectures. Everywhere, in the market-place. in the gymnasia, and in the workshops, he sought and found opportunities for awakening and guiding, in boys, youths, and men, moral consciousness and the impulse after self-knowledge respecting the end and value of our actions. On those whom he had convinced that the care of continually becoming better and more intelligent must take precedence of all other cares, he was sure he had conferred the greatest benefit (Plat. Apol.
p. 36, comp. pp. 28, 29, 38, 30, 31, 33, Symp.
p. 216, Lach.
p. 188; Xen. Mem. 1.2.64
But he only endeavoured to aid them in developing the germs of knowledge which were already present in them, not to communicate to them ready made knowledge; and he therefore professed to practise a kind of mental mid wifery, just as his mother Phaenarete exercised the corresponding corporeal art (Plat. Thcaet.
p. 149, ib. Heindorf.). Unweariedly and inexorably did he fight against all false appearance and conceit of knowledge, in order to pave the way for correct self-cognition, and therewith, at the same time, true knowledge. Consequently to the mentally proud and the mentally idle he appeared an intolerable bore, and often enough experienced their bitter hatred and calumny (Plat. Apol.
pp. 22, 23, Symp.
p. 215, Gorg.
pp. 482, 491, 522, Meno,
p. 95; Xen. Mem. 4.4.19
; D. L. 2.21
, ib. Menag.), Such persons might easily be misled by the " Clouds " of Aristophanes into regarding Socrates as the head of the sophists, although he was their victorious opponent. Although the story that it was after entering into a bargain with the accusers of Socrates that the poet held him up to public scorn and ridicule (Aelian, Ael. VH 2.13
; comp. Fréret, Observations sur les Causes et sur quelques Circonstances de la Condamnation de Socrate, Mémoires de l' Académie des Inscript.
xlvii. p. 209, &c.), is a palpable invention, since the first exhibition of the " Clouds" (in Ol. 89. 1, B. C. 423) preceded the prosecution and condemnation of Socrates by twenty-four years, still that the comedy produced a lasting unfavourable impression respecting the philosopher, he himself declared in the speech which he made in his own defence on his trial (Plat. Apol.
pp. 18, 19, 23, 25; comp. Xen. Symp.
6.6). Yet it does not appear that personal enmity against Socrates was the motive for the production of the comedy (Plato exhibits Socrates engaged in the most confidential conversation with the poet, Symp.
As little can we tax the poet with a calumny proceeding from maliciousness, or with meaningless buffoonery, since almost all his comedies exhibit great moral earnestness and warm love for his country (see especially Acharn.
676, &c., Vesp.
1071, &c., 1022. Pac.
732, &c., Nub.
537, &c.; comp. Schnitzer's German translation of the " Clouds," Stuttgart, 1842, p. 19, &c.).
It appears rather to have been from a conviction that the ancient faith and the ancient manners could be regained only by thrusting aside all philosophy that dealt in subtleties, that he represented Socrates, the best known of the philosophers, as the head of that sophistical system which was burying all morals and piety (comp. Súvern, Ueber die Wolken des Aristophanes,
p. 24, &c.; Rötscher, Aristophanes und sein Zeitalter,
p. 268, &c.).
In adopting this view we do not venture to decide how far Aristophanes regarded his exhibition as corresponding to the peculiarities of Socrates, or contented himself with portraying in his person the hated tendency.
Attached to none of the prevailing parties, Socrates found in each of them his friends and his enemies. Hated and persecuted by Critias, Charicles, and others among the Thirty Tyrants, who had a special reference to him in the decree which they issued, forbidding the teaching of the art of oratory (Xen. Mem. 1.2
. §§ 31, 37), he was impeached after their banishment and by their opponents.
An orator named Lycon, and a poet (a friend of Thrasybulus) named Melitus, had united in the impeachment with the powerful demagogue Anytus, an embittered antagonist of the sophists and their system (Plat. Meno,
p. 91), and one of the leaders of the band which, setting out from Phyle, forced their way into the Peiraeeus, and drove out the Thirty Tyrants.
The judges also are described as persons who had been banished, and who had returned with Thrasybulus (Plat. Apol.
The chief articles of impeachment were, that Socrates was guilty of corrupting the youth, and of despising the tutelary deities of the state, putting in their place another new divinity (Plat. Apol.
pp. 23, 24; Xen. Mem. 1.1.1
; D. L. 2.40
, ib. Menag.).
At the same time it had been made a matter of accusation against him, that Critias, the most ruthless of the Tyrants, had come forth from his school (Xen. Mem. 1.2.12
; comp. Aeschin. ad v. Tim.
§ 173, Bekker). Some expressions of his, in which he had found fault with the democratical mode of electing by lot, had also been brought up against him (Xen. Mem. 1.2.9
, comp. 58); and there can be little doubt that use was made of his friendly relations with Theramenes, one of the most influential of the Thirty, with Plato's uncle Charmides, who fell by the side of Critias in the struggle with the popular party, and with other aristocrats, in order to irritate against him the party which at that time was dominant; though some friends of Socrates, as Chaerephon for example (Plat. Apol.
pp. 20, 21), were to be found in its ranks.
But, greatly as his dislike to unbridled democracy may have nourished the hatred long cherished against him, that political opposition was not, strictly speaking, the ground of the hatred ; and the impeachment sought to represent him as a man who in every point of view was dangerous to the state.
In the fullest consciousness of his innocence, Socrates repels the charge raised against him. His constant admonition in reference to the worship of the gods had been, not to deviate from the maxims of the state (Xen. Mem. 4.3.15
, comp. 1.1.22); he had defended faith in oracles and portents (ib. 4.3.12, 1.1.6, &c., 4.7.16 ; Plat. Apol.
pp. 23, &c., 28, 20, 26, 35, comp. Phaed.
pp. 60, 118, Crito,
p. 44); and with this faith that which he placed in his Daemonium
stood in the closest connection.
That he intended to introduce new divinities, or was attached to the atheistical meteorosophia
of Anaxagoras (Plat. Apol.
p. 26, comp. 18), his accusers could hardly be in earnest in believing ; any more than that he had taught that it was allowable to do anything, even what was disgraceful, for the sake of gain (Xen. Mem. 1.2.56
), or that he had exhorted his disciples to despise their parents and relations (Mem.
1.2.19, &c.), and to disobey the laws (ib. 4.4.12, 6.6), or had sanctioned the maltreatment of the poor by the rich (Xen. Mem. 1.2.58
, &c.). Did then all these accusations take their rise merely in personal hatred and envy? Socrates himself seems to have assumed that such was the case (Plat. Apol.
pp. 23, 28, comp. Meno,
p. 94; Plut. Alc. 100.4
; Athen. 12.534
). Yet the existence of deeper and more general grounds is shown by the widespread dislike towards Socrates, which, five years after his death, Xenophon thought it necessary to oppose by his apologetic writings (comp. Plat. Apol.
pp. 18, 19, 23).
This is also indicated by the antagonism in which we find Aristophanes against the philosopher, an antagonism which, as we have seen, cannot be deduced from personal dislike. Just as the poet was influenced by the conviction that every kind of philosophy, equally with that of the sophists, could tend only to a further relaxation of the ancient morals and the ancient faith, so probably were also a considerable part of the judges of Socrates. They might imagine that it was their duty to endeavour to check, by the condemnation of the philosopher, the too subtle style of examining into morals and laws, and to restore the old hereditary faith in their unrestricted validity; especially at a time, when, after the expulsion of the Thirty, the need may have been felt of returning to the old faith and the old manners.
But the assertion with regard to a well-known depreciatory opinion of Cato, that that opinion is the most just that was ever uttered (Forchhammer, die Athener und Sokrates, die Gesetzlichen und der Revolutionär,
1838), cannot be maintained without rejecting the best authenticated accounts that we have of Socrates, and entirely misconceiving the circumstances of the time.
The demand that the individual, abjuring all private judgment, should let himself be guided simply by the laws and maxims of the state, could no longer be made at the time of the prosecution, when poets, with Aristophanes at their head,--ardently desirous as he was for the old constitution and policy,--ridiculed, often with unbridled freedom, the gods of the state and old maxims; and when it never occurred to any orator to uphold the demand that each should unconditionally submit himself to the existing constitution. If it was brought to bear against Socrates, it could only be through a passionate misconception of his views and intentions.
In the case of some few this misconception might rest upon the mistake, that, by doing away with free, thoughtful inquiry, the good old times might be brought back again.
With most it probably proceeded from democratical hatred of the political maxims of Socrates, and from personal dislike of his troublesome exhortation to moral self-examination. (Comp, P. van Limburg Brower, Apologia contra Meliti redivivi Calumniam,
Groningae, 1838 ; Preller, in the Haller Allgemeine Literatur Zeitung,
1838, No. 87, &c., ed. Zeller, die Philosophie der Griechen,
2.73-104. Respecting the form of the trial, see Meier and Schöman, Attisch. Process,
While Socrates, in his defence, describes the wisdom which he aimed after as that which, after conscientious self-examination, gets rid of all illusion and obscurity, and only obeys the better, God or man, and God more than man, and esteems virtue above everything else (Plat. Apol.
p. 28, &c., comp. 35, 36, 38, 39), he repudiates any acquittal that should involve the condition that he was not to inquire and teach any more (ib. p. 29). Condemned by a majority of only six votes, and called upon to speak in mitigation of the sentence, while lie defends himself against the accusation of stiffnecked self-conceit, he expresses the conviction that he deserved to be maintained at the public cost in the Prytaneium, and refuses to acquiesce in the adjudication of imprisonment, or a large fine, or banishment.
He will assent to nothing more than a fine of thirty minae, on the security of Plato, Crito, and other friends. Condemned to death by the judges, who were incensed by this speech, by a majority of eighty votes, he departs from them with the protestation, that he would. rather die after such a defence than live after one in which he should have betaken himself to an endeavour to move their pity; and to those who had voted for him he justifies the openness with which he had exhibited his contempt of death (p. 38, &c.).
The sentence of death could not be carried into execution until after the return of the vessel which had been sent to Delos on the periodical Theoric mission, The thirty days which intervened between its return and the condemnation of Socrates were devoted by the latter, in undisturbed repose, to poetic attempts (the first he had made in his life), and to the usual conversation with his friends. One of these conversations, on the duty of obedience to the laws even in the case of an unjust application of them, Plato has reported in the Crito,
so called after the faithful follower of the condemned man, who bore that name, and who, although he himself had become bail for Socrates, had endeavoured without success to persuade him to make his escape.
In another, imitated or worked up by Plato in the Phaedo,
Socrates immediately before he drank the poison developed the grounds of his immovable conviction of the immortality of the soul.
The manner in which the assembled friends, in the alternation of joyful admiration and profound grief, lauded him as one who, by the divine appointment, was going to a place where it must fare well with him, if with any-one ;--how he departed from them with the one
wish, that, in their care for themselves, that is, for their true welfare, they would cherish in their memories his latest and his earlier sayings ;--and how, with his last breath, he designates the transition to the life that lies beyond death as the true recovery from a state of impurity and disease, --all this is set before us with such liveliness, that we gladly accord with the closing words of the dialogue :--"Thus died the man, who of all with whom we were acquainted was in death the noblest, in life the wisest and most just." (Plat. Phaed.
pp. 58, 59, 115, 118, ib. Interp.; comp. Xen. Mem. 4.8.4
To the accusations which were brought against Socrates in his impeachment subsequent enviers and haters added others, of which that impeachment takes no cognizance, and which are destitute of all credibility on other grounds.
The accusation that he was addicted to the vice of paederastia (Lucian de Domo,
100.4., and in contradiction Maxim. Tyr. Dissert.
xxv. xxvi. xxvii.; J. M. Gesner, Socrates sanctus paederasta,
Traj. ad Rhen. 1769), we do not hesitate, supported by his unambiguous expressions respecting the essence of true, spiritual love in Xenophon (Symp.
8.2, 19, 32, &c., Mem.
1.2.29, &c., 3.8, &c.) and Plato (Symp.
p. 222, &c.), to reject as a calumny. Also the account that in consequence of a resolution of the people allowing bigamy, which was passed during the Peloponnesian war, he was married to two women at the same time (Plut. Aristid.
p. 335 ; Athen. 12.555
, &c.; Diog. Laert., &c.), is to be set aside as unfounded, since the existence of any such resolution of the people cannot be proved, while the Socratics know of only one wife, Xanthippe, and the account itself is not free from contradictions. J. Luzac, following Bentley and others, completely refutes it (Lect. Att. de Bigamia Socratis,
Lugd. Bat. 1809).
Whether, and how soon after the death of Socrates, repentance seized the Athenians, and his accusers met with contempt and punishment; and further whether and when, to expiate the crime, a brazen statue, the work of Lysippus, was dedicated to his memory (Plut. de Invid. et Odio,
p. 537, &c.; D. L. 2.43
. ib. Menag.), it is not easy to determine with any certainty, in consequence of the indefiniteness of the statements. Five years after his execution, Xenophon found himself obliged to compose the Memorabilia,
in vindication of Socrates. (Comp. A. Boeckh, de Simultate quam Plato cum Xenophonte exercuisse fertur,
II. Among those who attached themselves with more than ordinary intimacy to Socrates, some were attracted mainly by the spiritual power which he exercised over men. To learn this power from him, that they might apply it in the conduct of the affairs of the state, was probably the immediate object of men like Critias (for Alcibiades, who is here named in connection with him -- Xen. Mem. 1.2.14
, &c.--was doubtless actuated by a nobler admiration for the whole personal character of the philosopher; see especially Plat. Symp.
p. 213, &c.), and such remained attached to him only till ambition hurried them in other directions. Others sought to dive into the teaching and life of Socrates, in order to obtain for themselves and others an enduring rule of morality (comp. Xen. Mem. 1.2.48
). How his image had exhibited itself to them and impressed itself upon them, several among them endeavoured to render manifest by noting down the conversations at which they had been present. Among such Xenophon and Aeschines hold the chief rank, though they could hardly have been the only ones who composed such memorials. Others felt themselves urged to develope still further the outlines of the Socratic doctrine, and, according to their original bent and their different modes of apprehending and developing it, arrived at very different theories.
But, persuaded that they were only advancing on the path marked out by Socrates, they referred to him their own peculiar amplifications of his doctrines. Just as in the dialogues of Plato. even in the Timaeus and the Laws, we find Socrates brought forward as leading, or at least introducing the conversations and investigations, so also Eu, cleides, Antisthenes, and others seem to have endeavoured in their dialogues to glorify him, and to exhibit him as the originator of their doctrines. (Athen. 5.216
, c.; A. Gellius, N. A.
2.17; comp. Ch. A. Brandis, Ueber die Grundlinien der Lehre des Socrates,
in the Rhein. Museum,
1827, i. p. 120, &c.)
In this way arose two essentially different representations of Socrates, and in antiquity it was already disputed whether Plato or Xenophon (Sext. Emp. ad v. Math.
7.8), or even whether Plato or Aeschines (Aristid. Orat. Plat.
ii. p. 367, comp. 474) had sketched the more accurate picture of the man.
He himself left either absolutely nothing in a written form (Cic. de Orat. 3.16
; Plut. de Alex. fort.
p. 328; D. L. 1.16
), or only a rhythmical version of some of Aesop's fables and the introduction to a hymn to Apollo, which he had composed during his imprisonment, when for the first time in his life he made any attempts in verse (Plat. Phaed.
The quotations that antiquity possessed of it were of doubtful authenticity (D. L. 2.42
; Themist. Orat.
xiv. p. 321). What we possess from Aeschines, that is well authenticated, is limited to fragments. We have therefore only to decide for Xenophon, who exhibited considerable mental affinity with Socrates, or for Plato. Now Plato manifestly makes Socrates occupy his own place, and transfers to him the doctrines that were peculiar to himself. Xenophon on the contrary exhibits no other intention than that of communicating information with fidelity, and refrains from mixing up with his representation anything that was peculiar to himself.
This was so much the easier for him, as it was not his purpose to develope the Socratic doctrine, and as he was not capable of penetrating into the peculiarity of a philosophic mode of thinking.
But for that very reason his representation, with all its fidelity, is not adapted to give us a sufficient picture of the man whom all antiquity regarded as the originator of a new era in philosophy, and whose life each of his disciples, especially Plato the most distinguished of them, regarded as a model. Moreover it was the object of Xenophon, by way of defence against the accusers of Socrates, merely to paint him as the morally spotless, pious, upright, temperate, clear-sighted, unjustly condemned man, not as the founder of new philosophical inquiry.
It may easily be understood therefore that there were various opinions in antiquity as to whether the more satisfactory picture of Socrates was to be found in Plato, in Xenophon, or in Aeschines.
Since the time of Brucker however it had become usual to go back to Xenophon, to the exclusion of the other authorities, as the source of the only authentic delineation of the personal characteristics and philosophy of Socrates, or to fill up the gaps left by him by means of the accounts of Plato (Meiners, Geschichte der Wissenschaften,
ii. p. 420, &c.), till Schleiermacher started the inquiry, " What can
Socrates have been, besides what Xenophon tells us of him, without contradicting that authority, and what must
he have been, to have justified Plato in bringing him forward as he does in his dialogues?" (Ueber den Werth des Sokrates als Philosophen,
in the Abhandlungen der Berliner Akademie,
iii. p. 50, &c., 1818, reprinted in Schleiermacher's Werke,
vol. iii. pt. 2, p. 293, &c.; translated in the Philological Museum, vol. ii. p. 538, &c.) Dissen, too, had already pointed out some not inconsiderable contradictions in the doctrines of the Xenophontic Socrates (de Philosophia morali in Xenophontis de Socrate Commentariis tradita,
Gotting. 1812; reprinted in Dissen's Kleine Schriften,
p. 87, &c.). Now we know indeed that Socrates, the teacher of human wisdom, who, without concerning himself with the investigation of the secrets of nature, wished to bring philosophy back from heaven to earth (Cic. Ac. 1.4
5.4; comp. Aristot. Met. 1.6
, de Part Anim.
i. p. 642. 28), was far from intending to introduce a regularly organised system of philosophy; but that he made no endeavours to go back to the ultimate foundations of his doctrine, or that that doctrine was vacillating and not without contradictions, as Wiggers (in his Life of Socrates,
p. 184, &c.) and others assume, we cannot possibly regard as a well founded view, unless his almost unexampled influence upon the most distinguished men of his time is to become an inexplicable riddle, and the conviction of a Plato, a Eucleides, and others, that they were indebted to him for the fruits of their own investigations, is to be regarded as a mere illusion. Now we fully admit that in the representation of the personal character of Socrates Plato and Xenophon coincide (see Ed. Zeller's Philosophie der Griechen,
vol. ii. p. 16, &c.); and further, that Socrates adjusted his treatment of the subject of his conversation according as those with whom he had to do entertained such or such views, were more or less endowed, and had made more or less progress; and therefore did not always say the same on the same subject (Xenophon,
by F. Delbrück, Bonn, 1829. pp. 64, &100.132, &c.).
But, on the other hand, in Xenophon we miss every thing like a penetrating comprehension of the fundamental ideas of the Socratic doctrine to which he himself makes reference.
The representations of Plato and Xenophon however may be very well harmonised with each other, partly by the assumption that Socrates, as the originator of a new era of philosophical development, must have made the first steps in that which was its distinctive direction, and the immediate manifestation of which consisted in bringing into more distinct and prominent relief the idea and form of scientific knowledge (see Schleiermacher in the above quoted treatise); partly by the careful employment of the remarks made by Aristotle respecting the Socratic doctrine and the points of distinction between it and that of Plato (Ch. A. Brandis, in the above-mentioned treatise; comp. Geschichte der griechisch-römischen Philosophie,
2.1. p. 20, &c.).
These remarks, thöugh not numerous, are decisive on account of their acuteness and precision, as well as by their referring to the most important points in the philosophy of Socrates.
Intellectual Impact of Socrates
The philosophy of the Greeks before Socrates had sought first (among the Ionians) after the inherent foundation of generated existence and changing phenomena, and then (among the Eleatics) after the idea of absolute existence.
Afterwards, when the ideas of being
and coming into being
had come into hostile opposition to each other, it had made trial of various inefficient modes of reconciling them; and lastly, raising the inquiry after the absolutely true and certain in our knowledge, had arrived at the assumption that numbers and their relations are not only the absolutely true and certain,
but the foundation of things. Its efforts, which had been pervaded by a pure appreciation of truth, were then exposed to the attacks of a sophistical system, which concerned itself only about securing an appearance of knowledge, and which in the first instance indeed applied itself to the diametrically opposite theories of eternal, perpetual coming into existence,
and of unchangeable, absolutely simple and single existence,
but soon directed its most dangerous weapons against the ethico-religious consciousness, which in the last ten years before the Peloponnesian war had already been so much shaken. Whoever intended to oppose that sophistical system with any success would have, at the same time, at least to lay the foundation for a removal of the contradictions, which, having been left by the earlier philosophy without any tenable mode of reconciling them, had been employed by the sophists with so much skill for their own purposes.
In order to establish, in confutation of the sophists, that the human mind sees itself compelled to press on to truth and certainty, not only in the general but also in reference to the rules and laws of our actions, and is capable of doing so, it was necessary first of all that to the inquiries previously dealt with there should be added a new one, that after knowledge, as such.
It was a new inquiry, inasmuch as previously the mind, being entirely directed towards the objective universe, had regarded knowledge respecting it as a necessary reflection of it, without paying any closer regard to that element of knowledge which is essentially subjective. Even the Pythagoreans, who came the nearest to that inquiry, had perceived indeed that the existence of something absolutely true and certain must be presupposed, but without investigating further what knowledge is and how it may be developed.
It was the awakening of the idea of knowledge, and the first utterances of it, which made the philosophy of Socrates the turning-point of a new period, and gave to it its fructifying power.
Before we inquire after the existence of things we must establish in our own minds the idea
of them (Xen. Mem. 4.6.1
; Plat. Apol.
p. 21, &c. ; Arist. Metaph.
1.6, de Part. Anim.
1.1, p. 642. 23); and for that reason we must come to an understanding with ourselves respecting what belongs to man, before we inquire after the nature of things in general (Xen. Mem. 1.1.11
, comp. 4.7 ; Arist. Metaph.
1.6, de Part. Anim.
1.1). Socrates accordingly takes up the inquiry respecting knowledge in the first instance, and almost exclusively, in reference to moral action; but he is so penetrated with a sense of the power of knowledge, that he maintains that where it is attained to, there moral action will of necessity be found; or, as he expresses it, all virtue is knowledge (Xen. Mem. 3.9.4
; Plat. Protag.
p. 329, &100.349, &c.; Arist. Eth. Nic.
6.13, 3.11, Eth. Eudem.
1.5, 3.1, Magn. Mor.
1.1, 35); for knowledge is always the strongest, and cannot be overpowered by appetite (Arist. Eth. Nicom.
7.13; Plat. Protag.
p. 352, &c.). Therefore no man willingly acts wickedly (Arist. Magn. Mor.
1.9, comp. Xen. Mem. 3.9.4
; Plat. Apol.
p. 25e. &c.); for will
appeared to him to be inseparably connected with knowledge.
But just as knowledge, as such, that is without regard to the diversity of the objects to which it is directed, is something single, so also he could admit only a single
virtue (Xel. Mem.
3.9.2 ; Arist. Eth. Nic.
3.1); and as little could he recognise an essential diversity in the directions which virtue took, as in the practice of it by persons of different station and sex (Arist. Polit.
It may easily be conceived, therefore, that he did not venture to separate happiness from virtue, and that he expressly defined the former more accurately as good conduct
) in distinction from good fortune
, Xen. Mem. 3.9.14
); a distinction in which is expressed the most important diversity in all later treatment of ethics, which sets down either a certain mode of being
as such, or else the mere enjoyment that results therefrom, as that which is in itself valuable.
But how does knowledge develop itself in us?
In this way : the idea,
obtained by means of induction, as that which is general, out of the individual facts of consciousness, is settled and fixed by means of definition.
Those are the two scientific processes, which, according to the most express testimonies of Aristotle and others, Socrates first discovered, or rather first pointed out (Arist. Met.
13.4; comp. Xen. Mem. 4.6.1
; Plat. Apol.
p. 22, &c.); and although he did not attempt to develope a logical theory of them, but rather contented himself with the masterly practice of them, he may with good reason be regarded as the founder of the theory of scientific knowledge. Socrates, however, always setting out from what was immediately admitted (Xen. Mem. 4.6.15
), exercised this twofold process on the most different subjects, and in doing so was led to obtain an insight into this or that one of them, not so much by the end in view as by the necessity for calling forth self-knowledge and self-understanding. For this end he endeavoured in the first place, and chiefly, to awaken the consciousness of ignorance; and inasmuch as the impulse towards the development of knowledge is already contained in this, he maintains that he had been declared by the Delphic god to be the wisest of men, because he did not delude himself with the idea that he knew what he did not know, and did not arrogate to himself any wisdom (Plat. Apol.
pp. 21, 25, Thcaet.
p. 150). To call forth distrust in pretended knowledge he used to exercise his peculiar irony, which, directed against himself as against others, lost all offensive poignancy (Plat. de Rep.
i. p. 337, Symp.
p. 216, Thcaet.
p. 150, Meno,
p. 80; Xen. Mem. 4.2
). Convinced that he could obtain his object only by leading to the spontaneous search after truth, he throughout made use of the dialogical form (which passed from him to the most different ramifications of his school), and designates the inclination to supply one's deficiencies in one's own investigation by association with others striving towards the same end, as true love (Brandis, Gesch. der griechisch-römischen Philos.
ii. p. 64).
But however deeply Socrates felt the need of advancing in self-development with others, and by means of them, the inclination and the capability for wrapping himself up in the abstraction of solitary meditation and diving into the depths of his own mind, was equally to be found in him (Plat. Symp.
pp. 174, 220). And again, side by side with his incessant endeavour thoroughly to understand himself there stood the sense of the need of illumination by a higher inspiration.
This he was convinced was imparted to him from time to time by the monitions or warnings of an internal voice, which he designated his δαιμόνιον
By this we are not to understand a personal genius,
as Plutarch (de Genio Socratis,
100.20), Apulcius (de Deo Socrat.
p. 111, &c. ed. Basil.), and others, and probably also the accusers of Socrates, assumed; as little was it the offspring of an enthusiastic phantasy, as moderns have thought, or the production of the Socratic irony, or of cunning political calculation.
It was rather the yet indefinitely developed idea of a divine revelation. (See especially Schleiermacher, in his translation of the works of Plato, 1.2, p. 432, &c.) On that account it is always described only as a divine something, or a divine sign, a divine voice (σημεῖον
, Plat. Phaedr.
p. 242, de Rep.
vi. p. 406, Apol.
p. 31, &c.).
This voice had reference to actions the issue of which could not be anticipated by calculation, whether it manifested itself, at least immediately, only in the way of warning against certain actions (Plat. Apol.
p. 31), or even now and then as urging him to their performance (Xen. Mem. 1.4
, &c.). On the other hand this daemonium
was to be perceived as little in reference to the moral value of actions as in reference to subjects of knowledge. Socrates on the contrary expressly forbids the having recourse to oracles on a level with which he places his daemonium, in reference to that which the gods have enabled men to find by means of reflection. (Xen. Mem. 1.1.6
Thus far the statements of Xenophon and Plato admit of being very well reconciled both with one another and with those of Aristotle.
But this is not the case with reference to the more exact definition and carrying out of the idea of that knowledge which should have moral action as its immediate and necessary consequence. What is comprised in, and what is the source of, this knowledge? Is it to be derived merely from custom and the special ends and interests of the subject which acts? Every thing, according to the Xenophontic Socrates, is good and beautiful merely for that to which it stands in a proper relation （Mem.
The good is nothing else than the useful, the beautiful nothing else than the serviceable (Mem.
4.6.8, &c., Symp.
5.3, &c.), and almost throughout, moral precepts are referred to the motives of utility and enjoyment (Mem.
1.5.6, 2.1.1, 4.3.9, &c.; comp. 2.1.27. &c., 1.6.9, 4.8.6); while on the contrary the Platonic Socrates never makes use of an argument founded on the identity of the good and the agreeable.
In the passages which have been brought forward to show that he does (Protag.
pp. 353, &100.333), he is manifestly arguing ad hominem
from the point of view of his sophistical antagonist. Now, that the doctrine of Socrates must have been a self-contradictory one, if on the one hand it laid down the above assertions respecting knowledge, and undertook to prove that only good conduct, and not good fortune (εὐπραξία
), was valuable in itself (Xen. Mem. 3.9.11
), and yet on the other hand referred the good to the useful and the agreeable, even the defenders of the representation given by Xenophon admit, but suppose that this contradiction was an unavoidable consequence of the abstract and merely formal conception of virtue as knowledge (see especially Zeller, l.c.
ii. p. 63, &c.).
But however little Socrates may have had occasion for, or been capable of, analysing what was comprised in this knowledge, i. e. of establishing a scientifically organised system of ethics (and in fact, according to Aristotle, Eth. Eudem.
1.5, he investigated what virtue was, not how and whence it originated), he could not possibly have subordinated knowledge, to which he attributed such unlimited power, and of which he affirmed that opposing desires were powerless against it, to enjoyment and utility.
A man who himself so manifestly annulled his own fundamental maxim could not possibly have permanently enchained and inspired minds like those of Alcibiades, Eucleides, Plato, and others.
In fact Socrates declared in the most decisive manner that the validity of moral requirements was independent of all reference to welfare, nay even to life and death, and unlimited (Plat. Apol.
pp. 28, 38, Crito,
p. 48 ; comp. Xen. Mem. 1.2.64
), and in those dialogues of Plato in which the historical Socrates is more particularly exhibited, as in the Protagoras, Charmides, Laches, and Euthyphro, we find him offering the most vigorous resistance to the assumption that the agreeable or useful has any value for us. That Socrates must rather have had in view a higher species of knowledge, inherent in the self-consciousness, as such, or developing itself from it, is shown by the expressions selected by Aristotle (ἐπιστῆμαι
), which even still make their appearance through the shallow notices of Xenophon (Brandis, l.c.
ii. p. 43.).
But in connection with this, Socrates might, nay must have endeavoured to show how the good is coincident with real utility and real enjoyment; and it is quite conceivable that Xenophon's unphilosophical mind may on the one hand have confounded sensual enjoyment and utility with that of a more exalted and real kind, and on the other comprehended and preserved the externals and introductions of the conversations of Socrates rather than their internal connection and objects. Besides, his purpose was to refute the prejudice that Socrates aspired after a hidden wisdom, and for that very reason he might have found himself still more induced to bring prominently forward every thing by which Socrates appeared altogether to fall in with the ordinary conceptions of the Athenians.
Whether and how Socrates endeavoured to connect the moral with the religious consciousness, and how and how far he had developed his convictions respecting a divine spirit arranging and guiding the universe, respecting the immortality of the soul, the essential nature of love, of the state, &c., we cannot here inquire.
[Ch. A. B.