The Irony of Socrates
The Irony of Socrates
Socrates was thought to be ahead of his time. At the time, the citizens of Athens believed that their government had the ultimate power and nothing could be higher. So of course when one person chose to believe another view, the government became a part of the situation to maintain a sense of peace thorough the nation. This didn’t sit well with Socrates. He wanted as many people to know about his knowledge as possible because he had found scientific reasoning as to why his way was true, rather than simply because government officials say it is.
This strikes up multiple cases of irony from Socrates’s turn from natural philosophy to what eventually becomes what we know today as political philosophy. The first bit of irony arises from the fact that Socrates is actually writing to more than one audience, and also that he uses more than one strategy to do so. David Leibowitz, author of The Ironic Defense of Socrates: Plato’s Apolog, describes the audience situation, “Socratic irony has a twofold purpose and a twofold audience: conciliation of, and protection from, the unpromising members of Socrates’ audience, and the education of the promising member in the audience” (p. 17).
He then explains the strategies he used to get attention from each audience, “Irony, in the sense of self-depreciation and even flattery, is necessary for the first audience so that Socrates will be less offensive to them and more in tune with their moralistic views of the world. Irony, also in the same sense of speaking in a “double” fashion is necessary for the second audience because even “they start off under the spell of vulgar prejudice”” (p. 18). Socrates knew that if he wanted anyone to understand his beliefs that he would have to use certain techniques that would speak to the right group of people so he could have potential to be understood.
Leibowitz’s descriptions go beyond the fact that you can say two different things to two different audiences. First, it clarifies the complexity of Socrates’ ironic strategies with respect to the unpromising members of the audience. And second, it effectively continues to portray the true character of Socrates after his death. The after death irony works well in two ways also. For the promising young, his words were remembered and reflected on so that they would be taught the truth about his life and his scientific investigations of truth so each individual could decide what to believe in for themselves.
For them, it worked so that his knowledge would linger on so that they could follow his footprints to pursue his ideas of philosophy. As for the unpromising Athenians, “it served as a bitter pill, or rather a pill that begins to taste more bitter over time, as they eventually repent of their condemnation of a man who was obnoxious and annoying, but nonetheless brave and concerned with only virtue” (p. 156).
His beliefs seem to make a lot more sense to society today so it truly is too bad that he was put to death because who knows what other theories or discoveries he may have been able to come up with in his lifetime that could have been put to good use in the future. The regret of the people of Athens clearly comes too late for Socrates, but it then becomes a protection service for Socrates’s other philosophical followers so that people could come to admire the nobility of philosophers. Socrates was said to have “unconventional truths” that he was trying to convey to his listeners (p. 3).
The first is how lying has become so simple, but such a necessity in politics. Socrates thought through his choices when presenting himself to the Athens’ officials and came to the conclusion that it was easier and better for him to lie to them. It’s occasions like these that lead people to find the government to be unjust and corrupt, so they truly should never have been in position to had the power to judge Socrates and his choices to begin with.
But Socrates knew of this before his trials and knew that telling them the truth would only be a hopeless defense since their minds were already made up before sentencing. Looking back, Socrates denied looking into or taking part in natural sciences, but as Leibowitz’s studies show, “he was actually hints that this is exactly what he might have done as a young philosopher, and he suggests that these investigations were profane 1 / 2 because they do investigate the gods and attempt to substitute necessity for divine will” (qtd. in Leibowitz, 2). This suggests that people’s beliefs about gods do not generate their beliefs about human morality, but more that their moral beliefs generate their thoughts and beliefs in gods.
So it really takes learning what your personal morals are before you can find who you actually are in the religious aspect, whether you were raised on a certain religion or another. In conclusion, the irony shown here is clear in several ways including being able to write to two separate audiences in two different tones and also that Socrates was able to discuss his thoughts on unconventional truths. It’s ironic, and sad in a sense, that we felt a man with his knowledge was put to death because the government was unable to find that they weren’t the ultimate power.
And to find that a lot of the knowledge that we know today began from the ideas of Socrates makes you wonder if we could have built more off of what we already know now to better ourselves in the long run. But it’s truly the irony that makes Socrates’s life and knowledge such a big deal to people today. Leibowitz, David. The Ironic Defense of Socrates: Plato’s Apology. N. p. : n. p. , 2011. N. pag. Web. 2 Oct. 2014. POWERED BY TCPDF (WWW. TCPDF. ORG)
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 26 November 2016
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