Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The reader of Plato joins Socrates in inquiry, as Sancho Panza joined Don Quixote

Sophocles makes Oedipus the protagonist and hero and uses the elegance of the folk tradition to amplify the tragic essence of folk tale. Upon the birth of Oedipus Laius, his father is warned by the Delphic oracle that he will be slain by his son. Having thus been abandoned by his family and adopted by another king, rumors of his real origin disturb Oedipus later in life. He goes to the Delphi where he is told that he will kill his father and marry his mother. The name Oedipus is usually accepted to mean “swollenfoot”, indicating the wound-scar that results from the manner of the infant’s exposure and that serves as mark of recognition of personal identity in the play, but it could equally mean “He who learned his roots”, the man who knew himself.
It is striking that Plato in The Apology seems to cast Socrates as an Oedipus, a master of life as his name indicates, who reasonably accepts his condemnation to death. Socrates, the hero protagonist of the dramatic manifestation of justice in The Republic uses his own trial, as he has used his whole life, to inquire and to find the answer to the riddle of the Delphic Oracle which had said that he was the wisest man in Greece. This man, who is Socrates, supposedly kills his father— the city— by charming the youth away from conventional citizenship to superior aims of the state, and marries his mother— the laws— which have nourished and protected him in his mission. There is a different content in the Platonic riddle of Socrates but the character and the plot are remarkably similar.
The reader of Plato joins Socrates in inquiry, as Sancho Panza joined Don Quixote for adventures of the mind. The Platonic dialogues present an incorrigible urge to question things that have been taken for granted, the supposed adversary being conventional morality. Socrates in all his honesty was convinced of his own moral righteousness. He says in The Apology:
“And therefore, Athenians, I say, whether you acquit me or not, I shall not change my way of life; no, not if I have to die for it many times” (stanza XVII).
The question that arises before us is whether Socrates was in fact guilty of the crimes charged against him. The answer however appears rather misty and ambiguous. If we seek to resolve this peculiar complexity, we may have to look at three different hypothetical situations that can be ascribed to the textual presentation:
  1. Socrates has done wrong but believes that he has done right. (Here the idea of right would be that which is conventionally right and Socrates has done wrong in so far as he has neglected it.)
  2. Socrates has done right but Athenians who put him to death believe he has done wrong. (This might point at some higher principle of morality. In so far as Socrates was rationally convinced that he is right, he was not morally at fault. Athenians however working within confines of conventional morality believed he was wrong. This points at a kind of conflict of principles.)
  3. Socrates has done right and Athenians who put him to death know so, but put him to death for extra moral/legal reasons. (For e.g., they might have wanted to get rid of Socrates, who had humiliated them in public by demonstrating their ignorance.)

Any exploration of the problem involved will then seek to capture the justifications that buttress the three perspectives presented here. Socrates is quoting Sophocles when he says in The Apology that the unexamined life is no life at all for man. In discussing philosophy in the agora (marketplace) where the youth were his constant companions, Socrates examined persons who thought they were wise when they were not wise. In doing so he completely shook the conventional understanding of ideas like justice, courage, love, knowledge, etc. But whether in doing so he was ‘misleading’ and ‘corrupting’ them, remains unresolved. Posted by Silika at 7:52 PM Sunday, August 05, 2007 Permalink Chiaroscuro The Melting Pot Silika Mohapatra

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