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THE PHILOSOPHICAL METHOD OF SOCRATES.
THE peculiarity of the method pursued by Socrates consists, generally speaking, in deducing conceptions from the common opinions of men. Beyond the formation of conceptions, however, and the intellectual exercise of individuals his method did not go; nor is there any systematic treatment of the conceptions gained. The theory of a knowledge of conceptions appearing here as a claim, the consciousness of its necessity must be presupposed as existing, and an insight into the essence of things be sought. At the same time, thought does not advance further than this seeking. It has not the power to develope to a system of absolute knowledge, nor has it a method sufficiently matured to form a system. For the same reason, the process of induction is not reduced within clearly defined rules. All that Socrates has clearly expressed is the general postulate, that every thing must be reduced to its conception. Further details as to the mode and manner of this reduction and its strict logical forms, were not yet worked out by him into a science, but were applied by him practically by dint of individual skill. The only thing about him at all resembling a logical
rule, the maxim that the process of critical enquiry must always confine itself to what is universally admitted, sounds far too indefinite to invalidate our assertion.
Mem. iv. 6, 15: ÓTÓTE dè αὐτός τι τῷ λόγῳ διεξίοι, διὰ τῶν μάλιστα ὁμολογουμένων ἐπορεύετο, νομίζων ταύτην τὴν ἀσφάλειαν εἶναι λόγου.
This process involves three particular steps. The A. The first is the Socratic knowledge of self. Holding as he knowledge did that only the knowledge of conceptions constitutes of self, resulting in true knowledge, Socrates was fain to look at all sup- a knowposed knowledge, asking whether it agreed with his ledge of not knowing. idea of knowledge, or not. Nothing appeared to him more perverse, nothing more obstructive to true knowledge from the very outset, than the belief that you know what you do not know.2 Nothing is so necessary as self-examination, to show what we really know and what we only think we know.3 Nothing, too, is more indispensable for practical relations
2 Xen. Mem. iii. 9, 6: μavía γε μὴν ἐναντίον μὲν ἔφη εἶναι σοφίᾳ, οὐ μέντοι γε τὴν ἀνεπιστημοσύνην μανίαν ἐνόμιζεν. τὸ δὲ ἀγνοεῖν ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἃ μὴ οἶδε δοξάζειν τε καὶ οἴεσθαι γιγνώσκειν, ἐγγυτάτω μανίας ἐλογίζετο εἶναι. Generally speaking, those are called mad who are mistaken about what is commonly known, not those who are mistaken about things of which most men are ignorant. Also Plato, Apol. 29, Β. : καὶ τοῦτο πῶς οὐκ ἀμαθία ἐστὶν αὕτη ἡ ἐπονείδιστος, ἡ τοῦ οἴεσθαι εἰδέναι ἃ οὐκ οἶδεν ;
3 In this sense Socrates,
speaking in Plato, Apol. 21, B.,
than to become acquainted with the state of our inner self, with the extent of our knowledge and capacities, with our defects and requirements. One result of this self-examination being the discovery that the actual knowledge of the philosopher does not correspond with his idea of knowledge, there follows further that consciousness of knowing nothing, which Socrates declared to be his only knowledge. For any other knowledge he denied possessing, and therefore refused to be the teacher of his friends,3 only wishing,
1 Xenophon, Mem. iv. 2, 24, enquiring into the Delphic γνῶθι σεαυτόν, says that selfknowledge is attended with the greatest advantages, want of it with the greatest disadvantages: οἱ μὲν γὰρ εἰδότες ἑαυτοὺς τά τε ἐπιτήδεια ἑαυτοῖς ἴσασι καὶ διαγιγνώσκουσιν ἅ τε δύνανται καὶ ἃ μή· καὶ ἃ μὲν ἐπίστανται πράττοντες (selfexamination always refers in the first place to knowledge, because with knowledge right action is given) πορίζονταί τε ὧν δέονται καὶ εὖ πράττουσιν. See also Plato, Phædrus, 229, E.; he had not time to give to the explanation of myths of which others were so fond, not being even able to know himself according to the Delphic oracle; Symp. 216, A.; when Alcibiades complains: ἀναγκάζει γάρ με δμολογεῖν, ὅτι πολλοῦ ἐνδεὴς ὢν αὐτὸς ἔτι ἐμαυτοῦ μὲν ἀμελῶ, τὰ δ' ̓Αθηναίων πράττω.
2 Plato, Apol. 21, B.: ¿y γὰρ δὴ οὔτε μέγα οὔτε σμικρὸν σύνοιδα ἐμαυτῷ σοφὸς ὤν.—21, D. : τούτου μὲν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐγὼ σοφώτερός εἰμι· κινδυνεύει μὲν γὰρ
ἡμῶν οὐδέτερος οὐδὲν καλὸν κἀγαθὸν εἰδέναι, ἀλλ ̓ οὗτος μὲν οἴεταί τι εἰδέναι οὐκ εἰδώς, ἐγὼ δὲ ὥσπερ οὖν οὐκ οἶδα, οὐδὲ οἴομαι. —23, Β. : οὗτος ὑμῶν, ὦ ἄνθρωποι, σοφώτατός ἐστιν, ὅστις, ὥσπερ Σωκράτης, ἔγνωκεν, ὅτι οὐδενὸς ἄξιός ἐστι τῇ ἀληθείᾳ πρὸς σοφίαν. And a little before : τὸ δὲ κινδυνεύει, ὦ ἄνδρες ̓Αθηναῖοι, τῷ ὄντι ὁ θεὸς σοφὸς εἶναι, καὶ ἐν τῷ χρησμῷ τούτῳ τοῦτο λέγειν, ὅτι ἡ ἀνθρωπίνη σοφία ὀλίγου τινὸς ἀξία ἐστὶ καὶ οὐδενός.—Symp. 216, D.: ἀγνοεῖ πάντα καὶ οὐδὲν οἶδεν, ὡς τὸ σχῆμα αὐτοῦ.—Theætet. 150, C.; ἄγονός εἰμι σοφίας, καὶ ὅπερ ἤδη πολλοί μοι ὠνείδισαν, ὡς τοὺς μὲν ἄλλους ἐρωτῶ, αὐτὸς δὲ οὐδὲν ἀποκρίνομαι περὶ οὐδενὸς διὰ τὸ μηδὲν ἔχειν σοφόν, ἀληθὲς ὀνειδίζουσι· τὸ δὲ αἴτιον τούτου τόδε· μαιεύεσθαί με ὁ θεὸς ἀναγκάζει, γεννᾷν δὲ ἀπεκώλυσεν. Comp. Rep. i. 337, E.; Men. 98, Β. That this trait in Plato has been taken from the Socrates of history, may be gathered from the Platonic dialogues, in which his teacher is by no means represented as so ignorant.
3 See above, p. 67.
in common with them, to learn and enquire.' This confession of his ignorance was certainly far from being a sceptical denial of knowledge,2 with which the whole philosophic career of Socrates would be irreconcilable. On the contrary, it contains a simple avowal as to his own personal state, and collaterally as to the state of those whose knowledge he had had the opportunity of testing. Nor again must it be regarded as mere irony or exaggerated modesty.“ Socrates really knew nothing, or to express it otherwise, he had no developed theory, and no positive dogmatic principles. The demand for a knowledge of conceptions having once dawned upon him in all its fulness, he missed the marks of true knowledge in all that hitherto passed for wisdom and knowledge. Being, however, also the first to make this demand, he had as yet attained no definite content for knowledge. The idea of knowledge was to him an unfathomable problem, in the face of which he could not but be conscious of his ignorance. And in so far a certain affinity between his view and the sophistic
· κοινῇ βουλεύεσθαι, κοινῇ σκέπτεσθαι, κοινῇ ζητεῖν, συζητεῖν, &c. Xen., Mem. iv. 5, 12; 6, 1; Plato, Theæt. 151, E.; Prot. 330, B.; Gorg. 505. E.; Crat. 384, B.; Meno, 89 E.
2 As the New Academicians would have it, Cic. Acad. i. 12, 44; ii. 23, 74.
3 The already quoted language of the Apology, 23, A., does not contradict this; the possibility of knowledge not being there denied, but only
the limited character of human
As Grote remarks (Plato, i. 270, 323), referring to Arist. Soph. El. 34, 183, b, 7: èmei καὶ διὰ τοῦτο Σωκράτης ἠρώτα, ἀλλ ̓ οὐκ ἀπεκρίνετο· ὡμολόγει γὰρ οὐκ εἰδέναι. Conf. Plato, Rep. 337.
5 Compare Hegel, Gesch. d. Phil. ii. 54; Hermann, Plato, 326.
scepticism may be observed. In as far as it denied the possibility of all knowledge, Socrates opposed this scepticism, whilst agreeing with it in as far as it referred to previous philosophy. Natural philosophers, he believed, transcended in their enquiries the limits of human knowledge. A clear proof of this fact is that they are at variance with one another respecting the most important questions. Some hold being to be one, others make of it a boundless variety; some teach that everything, others that nothing, is subject to motion; some that all things, others that nothing comes into being or perishes. Just as the Sophists destroyed the conflicting statements of the natural philosophers by means of each other, so Socrates infers from the contest of systems, that no one of them is in possession of the truth. Their great difference consists herein, the Sophists making Notknowing into a principle, and considering the highest wisdom to consist in doubting everything; Socrates adhering to his demand for knowledge, clinging to the belief in its possibility, consequently regarding ignorance as the greatest evil.
search for knowledge.
Such being the importance of the Socratic Notknowing, it involves in itself a demand for enlightenSifting of ment; the knowledge of ignorance leads to a search his fellowmen. Eros and irony.
1 Xen. Mem. i. 1, 13, says that Socrates did not busy himself with questions of natural science, but on the contrary he held those who did to be foolish ; ἐθαύμαζε δ' εἰ μὴ φανερὸν αὐτοῖς ἐστιν, ὅτι ταῦτα οὐ δυνατόν ἐστιν ἀνθρώ
ποις εὑρεῖν· ἐπεὶ καὶ τοὺς μέγιστον φρονοῦντας ἐπὶ τῷ περὶ τούτων λέγειν οὐ ταὐτὰ δοξάζειν ἀλλήλοις, ἀλλὰ τοῖς μαινομένοις ὁμοίως διακεῖσθαι πρὸς ἀλλήλους· then follows what is quoted in the text.