Dr. S. Burgess
18 March, 2019
Socratess Benefit to Society
Every philosopher has the goal of examining the ideas of what is right and wrong, analyzing their own beliefs and the beliefs of others and the reasoning that led them to have those beliefs. Skeptics may do this by arguing that there can be no definite answer and one must suspend judgment and assume that everything we know can arguably be inaccurate, as where a dogmatist might claim to have the answer.
Aristotle, for example, argued that the answer to having a fulfilling life is to have the overall goal of happiness. A skeptic would argue that we couldnt know with certainty how to live well, and that we should never feel we possess that knowledge. Socrates was like a skeptic in that he made it a point to prove to people that they cannot claim to have wisdom of an idea that is only theoretical. In claiming that he himself was not wise, he showed that he does not have a dogmatic view on his philosophical beliefs.
Unlike a skeptic, he does not come out and tell people that he believes they are wrong, but uses conversation and frequent irony as a way of making them see the error in their logic.
Socrates frequently used irony in his conversations with people that saw themselves as superior in their wisdom or understanding of what is right or wrong. It seemed that for him irony was a tool in the Socratic method of debate where his goal is to point out a persons error in logic. When speaking with Euthyphro, Socrates did not blatantly argue that the Euthyphro was
not as wise as he thought himself, but encouraged him to analyze his beliefs until it became evident that he could not lay them down with certainty. When they were discussing how Euthyphro could know that it was right to prosecute his dad for causing the death of a servant he said, It is not part of anyone to do this, but of one who is far advanced in wisdom. Socrates didnt say it because he truly admired him, but as a way to draw Euthyphro into a discussion. The logic would be assuming you are wise, you will be able to give me a concrete definition of piety that no one else can. Clearly, Euthyphro wont be able to do this, and leading Euthyphro to question his own logic could mean forcing him to reflect on his beliefs before assuming that he is unquestionably right. Admitting that you could be wrong means having the ability to learn new things and thoroughly consider a situation before casting judgment. That is why he had more genuine respect for people that are open to learning, as he was.
I think most people today would agree with Euthyphro in that a man should be prosecuted for murder despite who they are or whom they murdered. The problem is that he claims to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what piety is and what can be considered pious or impious. Throughout their discussion, it becomes clear that he does not have a concrete definition or a way to determine whether something is definitely pious. It could be said that Socrates did not believe that it is possible for a human being to have absolute wisdom of what is pious. This is why he typically addresses people who claim to have such wisdom with some amount of irony. It is also why he never claims to be wise himself. It is not that he believes there are people out there that are wiser than him, but that there are some things we cannot know with certainty. In Apology, he mentions his quest to find someone who is truly wise. Craftsmen were only wise in their crafts, poets were not wise, but talented, and people that claimed to be wise in
a philosophical way didnt have a satisfactory absolute answer to philosophical questions. If the majority of people believe that a person is superior in wisdom, it can lead them to be easily manipulated and misled. Discussing their beliefs in the way Socrates does forces them to examine the logic behind the their own beliefs and those which people are persuading them to accept. People throughout history have used persuasive but illogical arguments to manipulate others. Having someone like Socrates to question persuasive people would be a benefit to society, as he said in Apology, because he can point out errors in their logic.
In the beginning of Apology Socrates said that his accusers were such good orators he was almost carried away in spite of myself. He goes on to say that not much of what his accusers claimed was based on fact, but they were persuasive speakers who made their arguments very misleading. Of course, he was only being ironic in saying that he was being carried away with their speeches, but he pointed out that people of the audience were likely only to believe them because they were good orators, not because they were sincere. He made a point to be sincere in his own testimony and to examine all of their accusations in his own way of speaking. This situation makes me think of the trial in the movie Appaloosa. The man on trial was a known and powerful criminal. His testimony was well crafted; he used big words and spoke very strongly. On the other hand, the sheriff testifying against him had to ask his friend to help him think of the right word many times and phrased things in a way that sounded tired and awkward. After they testified, the judge turned to the criminal on trial and said eloquent, but unconvincing. He was well spoken, but clearly lying, a much simpler phrasing of what Socrates is saying of Miletus and his other accusers. A lot of Socratess function in his society is making people see that in situations like this using logical reasoning and reflecting on what they have heard is important before forming an opinion.
Towards the end of Apology, after Socrates was sentenced to death, he asserts, Those of who have voted to kill me, vengeance will come upon you immediately after my death. He goes on to say that though they think no one will question them after he is gone, others will come forward in his place. He taught many of his students to think the way he did and he knew that after he died they would stand in his place. He benefited society in leaving behind logical minded students to challenge those in power, just as he did.
Skeptics and dogmatists have different end goals in examining their philosophical beliefs,
but they both present important arguments. A dogmatist gives an answer to a question that arguably is impossible to answer with certainty. A skeptic argues it is impossible to know anything with certainty and never stops looking for answers. Socrates was similar to the skeptics because he did constantly question other peoples wisdom, but he rarely stated that they were definitely wrong, as he didnt believe he had the answers himself. By conversing with people and pushing them to analyze their own principals in his own way, Socrates moved to benefit society by teaching them to draw their own logical conclusions.