Socrates, Man and Myth: The Two Socratic Apologies of Xenophon

Socrates, Man and Myth: The Two Socratic Apologies of Xenophon

Socrates, Man and Myth: The Two Socratic Apologies of Xenophon

Socrates, Man and Myth: The Two Socratic Apologies of Xenophon

Excerpt

The purpose of this book is to make a critical analysis of the controversial Socratic problem. The Socratic issue owes its paramount difficulty not only to the present status of available source materials, but also to the radical diversity of opinion as to the proper use of these materials. Karl Joël (Geschichte der antiken Philosophie 1.731) is fully justified when, referring to present-day Socratic research, he remarked that the famous Socratic dictum, 'I know only that I know nothing', could be applied most appropriately to the problem of the historical Socrates itself. Hence the present author need not apologize either for adding just another work to the existing plethora of Socratic literature, or for having failed to discover the 'definitely historical' Socrates. He believes, nevertheless, that his approach to the problem offers perhaps a few novel suggestions which may deserve some attention and, it is hoped, some further scholarly investigations. The present author, who is not a philosopher, is also fully aware of the possibility that some of his hypothetical theories will meet with strong objections from those who, after having made up their minds about Socrates, have tried to compare the latter to Christ.

That the Socratic problem constitutes a historical issue of the first magnitude and, hence, a source problem in the true sense of the term, is known to all who refuse to submit to uncritical dogmatism or pseudo-authority. The mere fact that Plato, Xenophon, or Aristotle ascribes to Socrates certain sayings or doings, in itself means little to the critical historian who always doubts the historical reliability of ancient philosophers or writers. And this for a very good reason: because it is exactly the testimony of the ancient philosophers and writers which has turned the Socratic problem into an almost futile issue.

The impact which Socrates and the Socratic problem has had upon Western thought is beyond all comprehension. Since it is a lasting and nearly ever-present concern both of philosophers and historians, the problem of the historical Socrates has succeeded in becoming completely buried under an avalanche of Socratica, all of which, whether written by a competent scholar or by an incompetent but enthusiastic dilettante, have merely helped to make Socrates a hopelessly elusive if not completely legendary figure.

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