Socrates and His Critics

Despite having written nothing himself, Socrates is—if not the most influential—certainly one of the most influential intellectual figures in the Western tradition, for it is with Socrates that “philosophy” seems first to move from natural history to an explicit concern for human affairs. Indeed, so great is the magnitude of this change that we continue to term earlier thinkers “pre-Socratic philosophers.” His stature is marked again in the name given to a distinctive form of philosophical literature, the Socratic discourse, and an approach to philosophical inquiry and instruction, the Socratic method. In antiquity, his thought, importantly, inspired Plato, Xenophon, the Stoics, the Skeptics, and the Cynics, beyond those thinkers stretching to influence in Rome and Judea...and four centuries before the presumed time of Jesus, Socrates had already suffered martyrdom for his idiosyncratic political, philosophical, and religious views. In modernity, his life both fascinates and repels the attention, notably, of Nietzsche; though criticisms of his mode of existence he had already endured in his own time at the hands of the comedian Aristophanes, among others.

Despite having written nothing himself, Socrates is—if not the most influential—certainly one of the most influential intellectual figures in the Western tradition, for it is with Socrates, we are told, that “philosophy” seems first to move from natural history to an explicit concern for human affairs. Indeed, so great is the magnitude of this change that we continue to term earlier thinkers “pre-Socratic philosophers.” His stature is marked again in the name given to a distinctive form of philosophical literature, the Socratic discourse, and an approach to philosophical inquiry and instruction, the so-called Socratic method. In antiquity, importantly, he inspired Plato, Xenophon, the Stoics, the Skeptics, and the Cynics, beyond those thinkers stretching to influence in Rome and Judea...and four centuries before the presumed time of Jesus, Socrates had already suffered martyrdom for his idiosyncratic political and religious views. In modernity, his life both fascinates and repels the attention, notably, of Nietzsche; though criticisms of his mode of existence he had already endured in his own time at the hands of the comedian Aristophanes, among others. Given the state of the evidence, one can look only to the history of the reception of his thought to try to recover any sense of the “historical Socrates”; but we must likewise ask whether he does not perhaps exert a greater influence as a result of the reception of the doxography itself than for his actual intellectual contributions. In short, had Socrates never existed, would not the tradition essentially have had to create him, in its move from its origins to ethics and political philosophy? Even given that he did actually live, is what we have of him really just such a necessary fiction?

Term

Section

Instructor

Schedule

Location

Fall 2022

1
Vincent Renzi
TR: 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM SILV 503A