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In Euthyphro, Socrates' questioning centers on discovering the true definition of piety -- but it is geared towards arriving at a sense of reasonable judgment (after all, he himself is about to go before the judges, and he would like to receive a judgment that is reasonable from them). What he meets in Euthyphro is willfulness and subjectivity. Socrates attempts to show why it is important to remain objective about the law and to what extent we can judge others: in fact, it is Socrates who is searching for an objective standard -- an absolute outside himself by which he may judge: "Tell me what is the nature of this idea, and then I shall have a standard to which I may look, and by which I may measure actions" (6e). Euthyphro happily engages in the dialogue and states that "piety, then, is that which is dear to the gods, and impiety is that which is not dear to them" (7a) -- thus opening the way for Socrates to expose Euthyphro's own supposed "piety" as relativistic.
Socrates begins his expose on piety and intellectual honesty by questioning that which causes hatred and war, asserting that differences in mathematics may be settled by measurement and summation, but that differences regarding "the just and unjust, good and evil, honorable and dishonorable" are those which cause hatred and war (7d). Yet, he points out how even the gods are often in dispute -- thus signifying that even the gods fail to agree about what is just and unjust, pious and impious. If piety is that which is pleasing to the gods, it stands to reason that piety is relativistic, since some of the gods may see some actions as holy and others as unholy. Euthyphro agrees with this assumption. Again, Socrates demonstrates that he himself is searching for absolute truth, while Euthyphro accepts relativism.
As Socrates further presses Euthyphro to define piety, the arguments that Euthyphro presents fail to suffice for Socrates. Finally, Euthyphro expresses some frustration at the way in which Socrates makes Euthyphro's definitions appear to be anything but: "You make them move or go round, for they would never have stirred, as far as I am concerned" (11d). Here, Euthyphro admits to being "doubly ignorant," that is to say -- he prefers to think that he knows better than Socrates, even though he cannot explain himself in such a manner as to not appear contradictory or incomplete. Instead, he puts the fault on Socrates, suggesting that Socrates just fails to get his meaning. What this Dialogue shows is that relativism leads to unjust and unreasonable judgments.
Philosophy is the study of wisdom and in the Apology, Socrates critiques the political life (which encompasses religion, laws, and custom in Athenian society) by showing how its followers are hypocrites and he alone is the true politician -- the one who embraces religion, law, and custom honestly because he embraces, first and foremost, philosophy. Indeed, Socrates shows that his accusers are unfit to cast judgment on him, for he himself is simply proving the will and wisdom of the gods -- in whom all wisdom truly resides.
Socrates defends the philosophical life simply and humorously in Plato's Apology by bringing to the minds of his judges the exact reason he had begun his public teaching: Socrates admits that his intention was to "refute the god of Delphi," (21c) who had answered Chaerephon that there existed no man wiser than Socrates. Here, Socrates begins his defense by establishing the fact that it is not he who considers himself to be wise, but rather the gods who consider him to be wise. He himself states how he believes himself to be ignorant and how all his efforts have gone into displaying his ignorance in an attempt to find someone truly wise who might offer enlightenment and thus provide Socrates with a "refutation" for the oracle. As Hugh as Tredennick states, "His wisdom lay in recognition of his own ignorance…[and] it was the oracle's intention that he should convince others of their ignorance too, and so help them on the way to knowledge and goodness" (9-10).
Socrates cunningly professes that this assertion from the divine oracle at Delphi was surely false: "When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can the god mean? And what is the interpretation of this riddle? For I know that I have no wisdom, small or great. What can he mean when he says that I am the wisest of men? And yet he is a god and cannot lie; that would be against his nature…I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in hand" (21c). In such a way does Socrates defend himself by humbly admitting that he does not consider himself to be a wise man at all -- but, ironically, that the gods do! Thus, Socrates so much as says, do not put me on trial but the gods -- for they are the ones who insist that I am a wise man.
Of course, as his defense continues, Socrates shows how all of the different men of Athens whom he interrogated, whether politicians or poets or artisans, failed to show themselves to be any wiser than he. But then Socrates admits something truly profound -- and what seemed like humorous jesting before now becomes illuminative and sincere: he maintains that his wisdom is nothing and yet upholds the judgment of the god of Delphi by saying that what the oracle actually meant was that the wisdom of men is nothing -- and that no man is wiser than Socrates because no man is actually wise, including Socrates. It is a brilliant philosophical point -- honest and true: "O men of Athens…God only is wise; and in this oracle he means to say that the wisdom of men is little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name as an illustration, as if he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing" (23a).
It is Crito's third argument to Socrates that Socrates accepts, although he turns it around on Crito and explains its fuller meaning as it relates to Socrates and the city-state of Athens.
Crito argues that Socrates, as a father, is responsible for his children, and therefore should not dwell in prison to die when the opportunity for escape is available to him. Crito attempts to seduce Socrates from his cell with an appeal to a good and noble purpose -- the education of the young (45c-d).
Although Socrates rebuffs Crito's suggestion and asserts his children will be looked after by his friends (as they certainly were in a figurative way, indeed, with Plato carrying on Socrates' teachings for the next generation), Socrates takes the opportunity to educate Crito on the relation of the man to his government.
Socrates likens the government of Athens to a father and himself to Athens' child. He asserts that it is wrong for a child to disobey his father. In Crito, Socrates seems to suggest that even though he has been wrongly condemned to death, he must not disrespect the court by fleeing the court's judgment even though the opportunity is presented. (Indeed, it would not have been difficult for Socrates to escape). Still, Socrates stays because he believes it is his duty to stay -- and his duty is not to any man, woman or child, but to Truth and Goodness itself -- transcendental ideals in other words, or the qualities of the Divine. And since the State, in Socrates' words, is the highest expression of that order, Socrates does not believe it would be just if he disobeyed the orders of that State (even if they are delivered by unjust men). Socrates' world is a world of hierarchy, with women under the man, the man under the State, and the State under God.
Socrates expands upon his argument by insisting that truth is Socrates' guide, not "opinions." "In no circumstances must one act unjustly," says Socrates. Crito, of course, argues that Socrates and all his followers would be better served were Socrates to flee and escape death. Socrates argues that he is old, and that even if the sentence is unjust, he will accept it because when one discounts the laws of society, he destroys society. Socrates did not necessarily discount the laws before, but he was trying to show people how to think differently about themselves and the world. He wanted them to adopt a humbler attitude. To disobey the State is to disobey God (especially since it is man's duty to obey the laws of the State). Socrates explains it this way: "Do you imagine that a city can continue to exist and not be turned upside down, if the legal judgments which are pronounced in it have no…[continue]
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