I in attempting to differentiate himself from the
I know that, for the journal, we are supposed to write something about it everyday, but since the beginning of trying that out, I have found that I was just saying the same things in every paragraph and ending with the same questions and beginning with the same answers. So, I have decided to set up my journal in this format, as to show what I am trying to say in a refined technique. I will try and add my questions and answers at the end, and I hope, Dr. Coyle, that this is an all right journal entry for our first journals.
Or, more correctly, the Platonic likeness of sophistry. At 19d-21a, Socrates claims, in attempting to differentiate himself from the sophists to whom he has become incorporated in the Athenian popular perception, that sophists claim to be experts about human superiority and can make humans exceptional, like horse trainers claim to be able to make horses exceptional. Socrates denies having this kind of specialist knowledge about human brilliance, claiming only to have a certain type of intelligence. The Greek words are significant: expertise = episteme or science; wisdom = sophia. This is an ancient conflict: philosophers trying to differentiate themselves both from divine inspiration and from engineers/scientists. In this case, the things to be studied and controlled by scientific sophists are human beings.
We can’t be humanists and lament this loss of valuable individuality, as if it were the “natural” condition, our birthright as free persons that is taken away from us, etc. The point is to examine the social machine that produces either restricted reaction or flexible decision. What Socrates is irritable about in terms of what he calls “virtue” or “true human excellence” is the generalization involved in producing perfect repetition. To be a good citizen, Socrates claims, one cannot be trained into disciplined reiteration, one cannot be simplified, but one must be multifaceted. To have virtue is to have judgment, to be able to respond to the new, the impulsive, or to situations that are too complex for words and can only be responded to aesthetically, by feel or touch, in both the literal and figurative senses of those words.
To have such ability, one’s brain must be persuaded into exploring complex character zones, where new patterns are able to form: self-organization. Discipline is exactly the channeling of reaction, the installation of huge personality attractors: reception of orders from above. Socrates of course did not have involvedness theory studies of the brain w/ which to clarify himself. His expressions are that of practical wisdom or judgment, and virtue or brilliance. We could say, Socrates wants to differentiate the good simplified, restricted inevitability from the good complex, flexible judgment. Will this make him popular? We will see.
Socrates claims to have only a “human wisdom” (20d), not the “more than human wisdom” (20e) of the sophists. Yet he also, legendary, claims to know that he is not intelligent (21b). What’s going on here?
Socrates tells the story at 21a-24b of the oracle’s saying, “no one is wiser than Socrates.” Because Socrates knows he is not intelligent, he at first doubts the oracle and sets out to test it. He will try to find someone wiser than he. He first finds someone who appears to be clever to many, and who accepts this trait: he too thinks he is wise. Under inspection, however, the allegedly wise man turns out not to be wise: he is exposed as unwise. This presentation of ignorance on the part of the allegedly wise leads to hatred of Socrates. He then reflects that he is wiser than this interlocutor, because he doesn’t pretend to a knowledge that he doesn’t possess. In other words, Socrates’ wisdom lies in recognizing his own lack of knowledge. After a methodical survey of Athens, including the politicians, poets, and craftsmen, Socrates concludes that the oracle was right after all and that human wisdom is worth “little or nothing,” and that the wisest is one who is aware of his own insignificance.
Socrates is here insisting on the need for ruling, that is, complexified bendable reaction to new and/or intricate circumstances, as the property of human wisdom. Such judgment is not verbally understandable, is not able to be put into procedure, because it is exactly the ability to step out of principle, to improvise and create. One can only have a retrospective spoken clarification of already formulated rules. Culture is the security device of judgment. That means that past inventions, past judgments become codified for communication. But truly all that can be put into words are unfilled recipes. The real work comes in the submission of these. When they’re applied, on the spot in the crisis or the workshop or on the stage, they step down from the status of formula and become only hints. But this formula was not the way’ in Athens. Masters gave commands: they ruled with the voice, by principle. Even though they could do things, craftsmen and workers couldn’t clarify themselves. And what they do is not to command matter, to enforce a magnificent form on disordered matter, but to persuade forth-implicit organization by pushing a material system toward an entrance they identify with. So, was he really trying to kill himself or was he trying to save himself; not necessarily from dying, but saving his ideas from dying?
Socrates’ approach toward death is significant to the history of philosophy. Death is not to be feared, he says, but the fear of death, and the disgraceful actions it may entail, is to be resisted and scorned. He first gives the illustration of Achilleus the warrior, then of himself as a soldier, then of himself as servant of the god. There are essential differences here though: Achilleus the warrior rushes forward, the soldier stays put with his companions. Beyond this dissimilarity, which he does not declare, Socrates says that the fear of death takes for granted a knowledge claim — that one knows it to be wicked. Socrates rather says that he has no sufficient familiarity of the underworld. This is key. Socrates does not put into practice philosophy as a way of bringing his equal citizens in line with a exceptional knowledge of the entire universe, including the temperament of the soul after death. Such is hidden to Socrates and to all philosophers.
So, I do not know, and who does, whether Socrates is steadfast in his belief of death and his legacy. I do know that he had a lot to say and he always had immense points. I will try to always remember Socrates’ words. For himself, as reported in the Apology, Socrates will choose to believe that death might be a blessing (40c ff), because of the sensible effect such an attitude will have on him here and now. And, as I have a good imagination myself, believe we all will have such an attitude.