Leo Strauss on Plato’s Apology of Socrates and Crito, with an Eye to Psychology

Attempting to write on Crito and volition regarding Justice, I am re-reading Strauss on these things and am of course amazed again at these, the best among the Platonic essays.

Continuing our study of Psychology and the attempt to reset the foundation of Psychiatry, we turn from the Apology to Crito. Socrates, of course, tells Crito that we should not worry about all the opinions of the many, but look to the one expert, as we would in choosing a trainer. But, as Strauss notes, the word soul is not used at all in the Crito, but is replaced by nameless referents such as “that part of us most harmed by doing injustice.” We have already raised the question: “What if justice either is, or is necessary to, the health of the soul?” That alone might be sufficient to depose the current foundation of psychiatry. Strauss writes:

He thus intimates the difference between the expert regarding justice and the non-experts (and in particular the laws): the expert’s logoi on what is just proceed from knowledge of the soul.”

Strauss, p. 58

Hence, we say that a scientific psychology and a scientific politics* might be possible if, as in the medicine and training tending the excellence of the body, we had a knower or knowledge of the soul. Lacking this, Socratic philosophy allows us a partial science of the psyche. But one quickly sees the sense in which, in the Apology, Socrates claims also not to know these things. The manifold marvels and mysteries of the soul and mind, and the inexhaustible natural articulation of the human and political things means that the science of the psyche is incomplete in a way geometrically, or dimensionally greater than even our ignorance of the body. Our medicine experts are much better at setting fractures or addressing injuries than they are at diagnosing and healing maladies.

Notes on Crito

First, one notes that Socrates or indeed Crito might have easily interpreted the dream of Socrates as encouraging him to flee to Thessaly (North of Athens) or Pthia which might also have been West of Athens, past Corinth on the Peloponnese, so that Odysseus, recruiting, found Achilles in the neighborhood). In contrast to the choice of Achilles to stay and win honor despite death rather than live a long life without honor. But, as noted by West, Odysseus there fails to persuade Achilles to return to the battle, as Crito fails to persuade Socrates (West, p. 101). Socrates does not read the dream as telling him what to do, but rather as foretelling what will be, indeed not inevitably, but as a result of what he will do. Socrates will chose rather to stay, obeying the legal process of Athens but winning immortal fame beyond Achilles and securing the possibility of philosophy now for over two millennia, give or take a few centuries lapse. That is, like Achilles, he makes the choice of the warrior, if at age seventy. But why does Socrates read that the ship will come not this day but the next, and on the third he will die?

Strauss might miss something about those who do not agree that one should not return injustice for injustice: If Socrates refers not to those like Crito at the start of the dialogue, but rather like those in the theory of Critias, Callicles and Thrasymachus, or those charging and voting to condemn Socrates, the statement makes more sense, and yields a proportion among men- whether it is a third, a fifth or what- with whom there is no common deliberation. These see justice as folly, and influence those like Crito to do things like pay off the jailer. They are distinct from both the usual many and few, who must deliberate together about common interests in order to make a city.

On volition, we will try to bring together certain Socratic thoughts that were most striking when we first discovered Socrates, spelling out the paradox that virtue is knowledge, there are apparently no knowers or teachers of virtue, failure of self control is not an overcoming of knowledge but opinion, no one does injustice voluntarily, because justice and virtue are our true self inteterst, the just man harms no one and revenge or doing injustice in return for injust is unwise, or harms our soul.

That no one does injustice voluntarily goes with the ideas that we cannot escape the punishment in any case, so that vengeance is in this sense unnecessary, belonging rather to “the God.” This goes with the idea that the nature of man as a whole is good, rather than a conjunction of good and evil. The opposites conjoined are not these, but rather body and soul, two things by nature good. (They are conjoined not directly by a conflict of the moral and immoral, but through the male and female, ie, the shadow is integrated not in adversity but elsewhere).

We are watching Strauss to add to our list of things Socrates says he knows- since he of course presents a position and an argument regarding justice, namely the truth, that he is worthy of being given free meals in the Prytanium rather than suffering harm from the city. Here between the two alternatives of mistaking opinion for knowledge and a rudderless ignorance, Socrates sets hypothesis and thought. Strauss writes:…he is always obedient to nothing other of what is his than the logos which appears best to him when he reasons… The logoi that appear to Socrates as a result of his reasoning are not necessarily unchangeable; they may be superseded by better logoi.” (p. 57). From the Gorgias, we gather that though human knowledge is hypothetical, dependent upon uncertain assumptions, a false accusation cannot be proven, and a true hypothesis cannot be refuted. This of course leaves the true to be demonstrated, and the false refuted. But we can know even for sure that “IF…then.”

Some hold that there “is no sin but ignorance,” seeking to replace all ethics with an ethically neutral science or intellectual virtue, holding a meaning opposite to the Socratic teaching that the just and good go together in the pursuit of happiness.

More thoughts on Crito:

The speech of the laws assumes a constitution and fundamental points of political theory, such as contract or agreement and the right of emigration. That philosophy owes its civilizing preparatory education to the city is another fundamental point that becomes clear, and more like this will appear on further reflection. It is not every day one may summon the laws themselves to appear and explain things!

Socrates obeyed, instituting civil disobedience, where one openly accepts the penalty as does a martyr. Yet he would not obey and cease philosophizing, nor from criticizing the city. This paradox-on the surface will be the occasion of some explanation. It is the same as the principle of the First Amendment and the limits of political authority, where one’s soul rather belongs not to the city, but to God, truth and nature.

*In Thomas L. Pangle, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, pp. 38-66; Originally from Essays in Honor of Jacob Klein.

*Note that there is no “polit-ology” as there is a psych-ology. The reason is related to the teaching of the sense in which there is not “form” of the city (City and man, pp. 120-121).

Ben Franklin’s Parable of the Ship

When the Quakers of Pennsylvania were slow to organize a militia for the defense of the colony, about 1747, with the French and Indian War looming, Ben Franklin wrote a pamphlet called “Plain Truth,” and quickly raised and organized 10,000 into companies. Chosen a colonel, Franklin declined suggesting Mr Lawrence as one more capable. Franklin is like Jefferson in lacking generalship, despite great political abilities.

The Quakers of Pennsylvania are responsible for the introduction of the opinions now held regarding slavery and the equality of women and a few other points, including pacifism. Because of their teaching against all war, it was difficult to raise revenue for defense before the need arose, and the practical necessity became obvious, A hypocrisy developed, where money for example could be appropriated for “grain” but not gunpowder, in an attempt to avoid the contraction or horns of the dilemma. In Franklin’s discussion, an attempt is made to distinguish between defense and offensive war, with some Quakers allowing defense despite pacifism. In his Autobiography, Franklin relates a story told by James Logan of when a ship carrying William Penn was thought besieged by pirates, and prepared defense:

He came …Their captain prepared for defense, but told William Penn and his company to of Quakers that he did not expect their assistance and they might retire into the cabin, which they did, except James Logan, who chose to stay upon deck and was quartered to a gun. The supposed enemy proved a friend, so there was no fighting. But when the secretary went down to communicate the intelligence, William Penn rebuked him severely for staying upon the deck and undertaking to assist in the defending the vessel contrary to the principles of Friends, especially as it had not been required by the captain. This reproof being before all the company, piqued the secretary, who answered, “I being thy servant, why did thee not order me to come down? But thee was willing enough that I should stay and help to fight the ship when thee thought there was danger.”

I once attempted to be a pacifist and conscientious objector looking to the Quaker principles, and to the saying of Jesus, “If my kingdom were of this world, I would fight.” The theoretical objection was not so much to dying as to killing, and that upon command, even in the days of Mi Lai. But it is not as Christians that we fight in defensive war, but citizens. The example of Socrates and the truth of the necessity of defense and therefore citizenship- and now what must be called statizenship and nationship. The Christian teaching regarding arms is difficult, but begins from where the people, the tak collectors, and then the soldiers ask John the Baptist, preparing for the coming of the Messiah, “What then shall we do.” John the Baptist tells the soldiers. “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14). In the just defense of the others, the saying might well apply that the greatest love is shown when on gives their life for their friends.

Franklin, though, next discusses the modesty of the sect called “Dunkers,” and the answer of Michael Welfare to the question of why they did not publish the articles of their beliefs and rules of their practice. He answered that some thoughts once esteemed truths may turn out t

  • *Humility is a good example of the sense in which lists of named virtues to be sought or practiced, is artificial. One does not attain humility by seeing that it is praised and imitating the appearances of the humble, but by knowing those higher things before which we are small. Humility and all the virtues will be a mean, but as Socrates says of courage, it depends upon knowing what kinds of things are to be feared, not to mention when and in what ways. Ethical virtue and the mean depend upon theoretical virtue.