Hoyt Introduction Socrates

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Unformatted text preview: or a manuscript utes to the transla- they make a dif- it be immediately a the texts. These otably Burnet and ion marks in the :es in the original an up for the sake 2 generous grants 1 ugraphy to include mt for his help in for the 1998 print- [6 division of labor [‘GW. 1 draft translation; 1 their differences. ,tation with GSW. translation; TGW TGW; the rest by .d wrote the com- THOMAS C. WEST ACE STARRY WEST Author: Thomas West and Grace Starry West Four Texts on Socrates Used by permission of the publisher, Cornell University Press. Introduction This collection contains four well-known works that present the thought and way of life of Socrates as they come to sight in confronta- - tion with his political community. The Platonic dialogue Euthyphro takes place just before Socrates’ trial on a charge of impiety and corrupting the young. The theme of the Euthyphro is a question—"What is piety?”—that is crucial to under- standing the charge against him. In the Apology of Socrates, we are given Plato’s version of Socrates’ defense speech at that trial. The Crito shows us Socrates, now in prison awaiting the death pen- alty, persuading his oldest friend that it is better for him to stay in Athens and die, rather than to escape to another country and live in exile. Aristophanes’ Clouds puts forward in comic form a profound cri- tique of Socrates by a leading poet of the day—a critique that appears to lend support to the much later prosecution presented in Plato’s Apol- ogy. Socrates mentions the play in his defense speech. It is a leading cause, he says, of the prejudice against him that led to his trial. To understand these seemingly simple but actually very rich writ- ings, there is no substitute for close study and meditation on the texts themselves. This Introduction and the works in the Selected Bibliogra— phy at the end of this book may be consulted as aids to that study. The Modern Rejection of Reason The modern image of Socrates on trial is of a defiant philosopher standing alone against his city and daring to repudiate its narrow- minded superstitions. Socrates is often hailed as a forerunner of mod- ern liberalism, but he did not assert against Athens a right to individ- ual self-expression. He did not believe in "the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."1 1US. Supreme Court, opinion by Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter, Planned Parenthood 1). Casey, 112 S. Ct. 2791 (1992), 2807. 9 00 85.09830: gamma. monnmnmm 50530 :02 Em. 00? 38mm 2.8 0155. 00m? 8 cm magma 0% wsoiQOm 0m 27% mm 1mg. mp: §0§mmmm mm :0, 9m mmBm mm 0058:. monamnmm 38me 8 0m?“ 8 00583 8H 23m: :0 830st mm. 85: 8:5 Um mg”? = 05 :0" 0.539. 23952. 500m 03883 2mg @8853 8 <m5mnmEm 36:30? woman 86:30? 0.. $588 “58050— mozinmosm 000:" ..0:m.m 02: 8:83 0m 800658... 89.28. 065008 200 8m 3:: 0005 mm? 8.8 285%. 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Socrates knows that he does not know, and, we may add, he knows what he does not know, namely, ”the greatest M. II Therefore, he knows enough to establish for himself a way of life de- voted to asking and thinking about those most important matters. He calls that way of life ”philosophy.” Tentatively, but for practical purposes fi- nally, virtue is defined as the philosophic life. The conditions for that life include qualities of soul and political institutions conducive to supporting the philosophic life. This is the Socratic answer. Thus Socrates’ thought is characterized by an uncompromising dedica- ' tion to knowledge, but also by a moderation that stems from his awareness of his own ignorance. Socrates’ achievement, which deserves our careful consideration, was to combine rigor with skepticism without giving in to the temptation of absolutism on the one extreme or relativism on the otha'. This Socratic insight, applied to our own time, may offer a basis for de- fending a healthy constitutionalism—one that secures political liberty on the basis of the consent of the governed, without hasitating to check the licen- tious conduct that would destroy freedom as well as the philosophic way of life. Freedom secures the philosopher’s ability to inquire. Democracy and finfitedgovernmentareareasonableresponsetoflreboastfulnessofflrose who claim on the basis of expertise that they alone should rule—the same boastfulnsss exposed by Socrates when he examined the intellectuals and politicians of his day. And finally, morality secures the conditions of freedom by teaching citizens to stand up against those who would oppress them, to restrain their destructive passions, and to respect each other’s rights." ...
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