On Xenophon’s Reminiscences of Socrates: I,i .1- 20: The Answer of Xenophon to the Charge that Socrates Is Impious


Outline and Contents

I. Introduction

a) Philosophy and the City

b) On I, i .1

c) Summary of the answer to the impiety charge

II. The First Part of the Answer of Xenophon                                              pp. 5-14

a) On I, i .2-5: The Answer to the charge of Atheism

b) On I, i .6-9 On Socratic Divination Theory

c) On Foresight

III. The Second Part of the Answer of Xenophon                           pp. 15-23

a) On I, i .10 The Impiety of the Other Philosophers in Conversation

b) On I, i .11-15  The Objections of Socrates to the Conversation of the Other Philosophers

c) On I, i .16 Socratic Conversation

1) The turn of Socrates to the Human Things

2) That Socrates Continued to study the Nature of All Things

3) The “What Is” Questions

4) Conclusion on Socratic Sophia and Phronesis

IV. The Third Part of the Answer of Xenophon

a) On I, i .17

Introduction:  Philosophy and the City                                        

    Both Plato and Xenophon present the Apology of Socrates, but only Xenophon adds to this a student’s defense of Socrates. And only Xenophon presents a defense against the charges as or nearly as these are stated in the actual indictment [Note 1]. The charge as presented by Xenophon,  reads:

Unjust is Socrates, for not believing in the gods which the city believes, but rather bringing in strange daimonia. He is also unjust for corrupting the youth.

    Xenophon Reminiscences of Socrates is presented is presented as a defense of Socrates, and thus philosophy, before the city. His Reminiscences begins with Xenophon’s own refutation the indictment of Socrates (I, i-ii), and concludes the presentation of Socrates with material from before and after, but not during Socrates own defense. Xenophon presents Socrates own defense in his own Apology of Socrates Before the Jury (IV,viii. 4-10; Apology 3-7, 26. There is a notable difference between the two defenses, traceable to a difference in purpose between the two essays at answering the indictment: Socrates did not speak to the end of drawing the verdict of acquittal from the jury (Apology 2-7). As Strauss notes, the Reminiscences is devoted especially to the Justice of Socrates (Xenophon’s Socratic Discourse, p. 85-86). The defense of Socrates by Xenophon aims at the acquittal of Socrates, and thus the reconciliation of the city to philosophy,  persuading the reader that Socrates was not worthy of death from the city, but rather was a benefactor great honor (I,ii .60-64). Hence, in Xenophon’s own defense of Socrates, he tones down the claim of Socrates to divine favor, the “talking big” or “exalting” of himself which made his conviction even more sure (Apology, 31). The surface of the Reminiscences of Socrates is silent too on the points of difference between two ways of life, the ways of philosophy and of the city. Xenophon is more careful than Socrates to avoid awakening the envy of the citizen by an attempt to openly present an accurate opinion of the source of the beneficence of Socrates, which is his wisdom. [Note 2]

   A close examination of Xenophon’s refutation of the indictment reveals a more detailed account of the conflict between Socrates and Athens, presented through but hidden beneath the surface o f the argument that Socrates is not unjust. This procedure appears in the first paragraph, where Xenophon wonders not how the Athenians could have been persuaded that Socrates was guilty not of the charges in the indictment, but rather how the Athenians were persuaded that Socrates was worthy of death from the city. Throughout the answer of Xenophon to the indictment, he avoids answering the charges exactly as they are stated and intended by the accusers. Each instance of this avoidance occurs on points where philosophy appeals to a higher authority than the customs of the city. While the opening paragraph allows us to assume that Xenophon will argue that Socrates was innocent of the charges in the indictment, his procedure in answering the indictment suggests a different account: That Socrates was in a way guilty as charged, but at the same time, and for the same reason worthy not of death but of great honor from the city.

   The trial and execution of Socrates is the action which portrays most graphically what is called the conflict between philosophy and the city. Socrates was brought to trial because his activity looks impious and subversive, and thus harmful to the city. This at any rate was the vulnerability used by his accusers. Socrates is thought to undermine custom by undermining the belief in the gods of the city and the customary respect for law, fathers and filial relations. The authority of the city is grounded in the customary belief of the citizens in the ancient customs and opinion built up over time and handed down through unremembered ages. These customs provide men with an opinion of the way of the cosmos and a corresponding opinion of the right way of life for man within this cosmos. These two: the opinion of the cosmos and of man- are never held apart from one another, but, one notes, do always correspond or go together, if only because this or that way makes sense in this or that cosmos. So ethics and “metaphysics” would be related in the opinion of each. Under custom, men characteristically hold that there are higher powers or beings that enforce justice among men by rewarding or punishing justice or injustice, by arranging the deserved fortune or misfortune for each. Therefore, what is advantageous for oneself according to the usual opinion of one’s own advantage cannot be different from what is just, due to the god-enforced harmony between the human things and the cosmos. On this foundation, “custom… teaches us how to live” (III,iii .11). The most decent citizens are guided or ruled by the ancient beliefs regarding the divine and the difference between right and wrong. Every corruption of this decency is also a deviation from the customary opinions, and so every deviation from the opinions appears to be a corruption. But philosophy, as the love or friendship of men with wisdom, begins in the attempt to ascend from the opinions to knowledge of the truth about these most important things, and to live in the way that is in truth best for men to live. By attempting to ascend from the opinions to the knowledge which is their source, philosophy turns the opinions of the city into questions. But by this divergence- which the city cannot distinguish from other divergences, philosophy is seen as threatening to undermine the authority of custom, which benefits humans by preserving private families as well as cities.

   The answer of Xenophon to the indictment takes each of the two parts in order, treating first the impiety charge (I, i) and then the charge of corrupting the youth (I, ii). Xenophon argues that Socrates was not immoderate toward the gods by arguing that Socrates was not uncustomary in his deeds of sacrifice and divination, and that, contrary to appearances Socrates was not the same as the Sophists, or those who talk openly about the nature of all things. He then argues that Socrates was not the cause of corruption but rather great benefit to the city and to those with him. But nowhere does Xenophon say that Socrates believed in the gods in which the city believes. Nor does he say that Socrates did not subvert the  attachment of some to the ancient customs, which is what the accusation means by “corruption of the youth.”

   The answer of Xenophon, which we will here attempt to open and explore, is set in three parts: The first part examines the evidence of the deeds of Socrates (I,i .1-9). From Socrates’ sacrifice and use of divination, Xenophon suggests that Socrates was not an atheist, but believed in gods. The second part considers the lack of impiety in the speech of Socrates (I,i .10-17). Here Xenophon distinguishes the conversation, about the human things, from the conversation of those who talk openly about the nature of all things. Since the Athenians commonly believed Socrates to be the same as those who worry about the nature of all things, it is clear from Xenophon’s distinction that the jury “erred in pronouncing on what it is not manifest how they knew” (I,i 17). Xenophon then returns in the third part to evidence that all knew, the evidence of deeds (I,i, 18), then states the beliefs implied by the example, and how the beliefs of Socrates differed from the beliefs of the many. From the evidence of these three inquiries, into the evidence of Socrates’ deeds, his speeches, and then beliefs implied by a Socratic deed, Xenophon concludes by restating his wonder that the Athenians were persuaded, here, that “Socrates was not moderate toward the gods,” when in word and deed he was “such as one who would be thought most pious.” Socrates is accused of not believing in the gods of the city, but the evidence of what Socrates thought is not among the things that “all have seen.” But because the beliefs of Socrates are said to be different from the beliefs of the many- who are the ruling element and again in power in democratic Athens- Xenophon invites us to wonder whether or not Socrates could have: a) trusted in divining, b) been not immoderate toward the gods, and c) been in word and deed such as one who would be thought most pious, while d) still not believing in the gods in which the city believes. Let us then examine this section of the Reminiscences of Xenophon in some detail, aiming to unfold the account of Xenophon of the conflict between philosophy and the city.

The Answer to the Charge of Atheism

    First, then,” Xenophon asks, “That he did not believe in the gods in which the city believes, what proof did they deliver of that? For Socrates sacrificed constantly, both in private and at the public temples, and also used divination with as little secrecy (compare Apology 12-13). Elsewhere, Xenophon reports that the words and deeds of Socrates were in harmony with the answer of the Delphic oracle to the question of what our duty is regarding sacrifice. We should “follow the custom of the city; that is the way to act piously” (I,iii .1). If the outward actions of Socrates are in accordance with the customs of the city. what evidence could possibly be delivered to show that Socrates sacrificed in this way while not believing in the gods of the city?

   Part of this evidence is that “it had become notorious that Socrates claimed to be signaled by the daimon” (I,i, .3). The charge of bringing in, or of carrying in strange daimonia arose out of this claim. The closest English word to this might be “spirits, or “divine things,” rather than demons, with its medieval connotations. The accusers believe that this daimon is a god foreign to the city, and thus that Socrates does not follow custom in divination as he does in sacrifice. Xenophon argues, as does Socrates in Xenophon’s Apology (12-13) that the divination of Socrates by his own daimon is “no more bringing in anything strange than are other believers in divination.” Xenophon tells us that Socrates, like other diviners, believed that it is not the birds or oracles that know what profits the inquirer, but believed that these are the instruments by which the gods make their answers known. The only difference between Socrates and conventional diviners is that while they say that the instruments dissuade or encourage them, Socrates “spoke just as he knew: for he said that the daimon gave him a sign” (I,i, .4).

   Xenophon does not make clear, as Socrates does in Xenophon’s ‘s Apology, what instrument it was that Socrates used in divination, except to refer to the daimon. In the Apology, Socrates asks how he would be thought guilty of carrying in new divinities by saying that the “voice of God” is made manifest to him signalling what he should do. For those who rely on birds, oracles and utterances also are consulting voices. Xenophon does not write of the voice, but only the daimon and the instruments of the other diviners. He also presents the difference of Socrates as merely a matter of “speaking as he knew.” Socrates states that the difference between himself and other diviners is that others ascribe the power of the god to birds, while Socrates spoke with more truth and piety to say “the daimon, rather than the birds, utterances, chance meetings or prophets are the ones foretelling” (Apology 13). According to Socrates, then, the difference is one of that to which the power of the god is being ascribed. The two thus appear to think the same only regarding the knowledge of the god.

   The silence of Xenophon regarding the voice of the god draws our attention to questions posed by the difference between the instrument in the divination of Socrates and that of the other prophets. The voice of the god comes directly to Socrates without any corporeal thing mediating, such as a bird or priestess at Delphi. Xenophon does not use terms such as “the god” or “the voice of the god” as interchangeable with “the daimon.” The speech of Socrates equates the voice of the god with the daimon, and speaks of the daimon as that to which one ought ascribe the power of the god. It looks like  the daimon is either the voice of the god or the god itself. [Note 3]

   In Xenophon’s Apology, Socrates speaks of sharing the counsel of the god with his friends (philoi) only for evidence of his accuracy (13). But in the Memorabilia, this point of the sharing of counsel is drawn out first into a proof that Socrates was not an atheist, and then into a discussion of Socratic divination theory, in which Xenophon brings in things that Socrates said to draw out a distinction implicit in the Socratic practice in counseling “friends” (epitadeios).

   In turning the charge of not believing in the gods of the city into the charge of atheism, or not believing in any gods, and then refuting the charge of atheism by Socrates’ belief in the daimon, Xenophon proceeds as does Socrates in Plato’s Apology of Socrates. Xenophon states that Socrates would not have given counsel to his companions (sunontes) if he had not trusted what he said to be true.” For who would not admit that he wished to appear neither foolish not boastful to his companions? (I,i .5; I.vii) Strauss, Xenophon’s Socrates, p. 32). Xenophon establishes the refutation of the charge of atheism by leading and apparently rhetorical questions. He asks what could Socrates have trusted in, in trusting that what he said in his counsel was true, if not in a god? And if Socrates trusted in a god, how can it be said that he did not believe in gods? (I,i .5). In Plato’s Apology, Socrates gets the accuser Meletus to state explicitly that the indictment for not believing in the gods of the city is intended as a charge of atheism, or of not believing in the gods at all (26 c). Socrates then refutes the charge of atheism from the assertion of his belief in the daimon, drawing the assertion that he believes in gods by the very same method of leading and apparently rhetorical questions. Socrates asks Meletus: “Do we not believe that daimonia are either gods or children of gods? (27 d). Thus the belief in daimonia implies the belief in gods, and it must be that Socrates believes in gods.

   The contradiction is inherent in the indictment itself, rather than something invented by the philosophers by dropping off the adjective “of the city.” It seems to have been commonly thought that Socrates was an atheistic natural philosopher. Not only does Plato’s Meletus say that this is the meaning of the charge, But Aristophanes’ Socrates, in the Clouds, is a natural philosopher who denies the existence of Zeus (367, 381, 827, 1470). He asserts that the clouds are the causes of rain, thunder and lightening (367-417). It is not seen by the accusers how Socrates’ concern with daimonia, mind and mysteries, or with this kind of thing, fundamentally distinguishes him from other philosophers. Socrates may not have been indicted had he not been concerned with this distinct kind of things, but the charge of impiety has its source in the opinion that Socrates was a natural philosopher and thus atheistic The admission that Socrates believes in in divinities contradicts this opinion.

   The charge of not believing in the gods of the city converts into the charge of atheism by the unstated intermediate proposition that the gods of the city are the true gods, or that the beliefs of the city are the truth and knowledge about the gods. Custom apparently depends upon taking or mistaking the mythic opinions- the images combined with beliefs- to be knowledge. If there were other gods than those of the city, one wonders why it would be a crime to to believe in them or even to introduce the city to them, or how it would seem safe to prosecute those who serve them or are favored by them. [Note 4] The philosophers establish the  assertion of the belief of Socrates in the gods by apparently rhetorical questions because in the custom-formed imagination of the citizens, there is nothing else in which Socrates could have trusted in his counsel or foretelling except a god. For this reason, too, such powers may be best ascribed to the God. But once the theism of Socrates is admitted, it seems that a jury member would either have to conclude that Socrates is innocent of the charges, or else join in the crime for which they would convict him, of believing in gods other than those of the city.

   In trusting that his counsel by the daimon was true, could Socrates not have been trusting in something besides a god? And if what he trusted in was a god, was this not a god different from the gods of the city? By leaving us to wonder these things, Xenophon raises the question of the nature of Socratic divination.

b) On I,i 6-9: Socratic Divination Theory

    Having answered the charge of atheism, Xenophon turns to a point of Socratic divination theory, presenting a Socratic account of the kinds of things which one ought and ought not ask the gods. Recalling things Socrates said in order to explain a Socratic practice regarding divination: Toward friends (epitaedeioi, “associates, acquaintances”) Socrates counselled that it was necessary to do what they thought best to be done, but regarding unseen outcomes, he sent them to oracles to ask if it should be done (I,i, 6) These “friends” are distinguished from the companions, sunontes) in that Socrates does not advise them by his daimon. This may be because the daimon of Socrates is like other gods in that “…they are not willing to give counsel to everyone…for it is not necessary for them to care for those whom they do not wish to care for” (Memorabilia I,i .9; Cyropaedia I,vi .46). Socrates, too, wished to remain free of compulsion, and so did not take money for his teaching (Memorabilia I,iii, .5-7; I,vi .6; I,vi .3-6, 13). The distinction between associates and companions of Socrates looks at least analogous the distinction between those not in and those in the favor of the divine or the gods (I,i 9, “Theous“). [Note 5]

   The practice of Socrates toward his “friends” as distinct from his companions is the occasion for Xenophon’s recalling of the distinction Socrates made in speech between things learnable by humans and things which one ought ask the gods. Socrates said that those intending to care for a house or a city need the help of divination. For the arts, such as those of the carpenter, smith, farmer or ruler of men, as well as the arts of examining these arts, arithmetic, economics (or household management), , and generalship, and all such learning he held to be due to human understanding. But the greatest of these, he said, the gods have left to themselves, to be unclear to men. In explanation of this distinction, Socrates listed six practices, in three groups of two, in which one cannot know whether the application of human knowledge and ability will result in attaining the advantage of those who practice them. The first two, farming and carpentry, belong to economics. The next two, generalship and statecraft, belong to politics. The third two are questions of the private or public advantage of a certain marriage. [Note 6] Socrates said that those who suppose that nothing of of these matters is daimonic (daimonian), but that these are entirely of what all humans know, are mad (daimonan). But it is no less mad to ask the gods about matters which they have given to men to judge by learning. Socrates held it to be lawless to set such questions to the gods as whether it is better to get a knowing (epistemenon) pilot of carriage driver to guide one’s ship or carriage. Perhaps it would also be mad to ask whether or not it is best to get a knowing educator for one’s children or for the youth of the city (I,ii .49-55 with Apology 20). We must learn what the gods have given us to learn, but what is not clear to humans we should inquire into by prophecy, “For to him who is in their grace, the gods grant a sign (I,i .9).

[Comment:] The realm of the human things which Xenophon here presents Socrates as presenting as outside the range of human powers is the realm of things which can be other than they are when they come to be. [Note 7] The things of this realm are distinguished from”realities whose first principles do not admit of being other than they are,” which are known in theoretical wisdom (Aristotle, Ethics, VI, 1139a 6-12; 1141 b 2-4). The realm which Xenophon presents as that of divination is the sphere of foresight and practical wisdom. In the presentation of Xenophon here (I,i, .6-9), Socrates seems almost to agree with Cambyses in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, when Cambyses concludes his lesson to Cyrus with a warning that human wisdom (sophia) does not know how to choose what is best any more than if one were to cast lots and do as the lot fell” )I,vi .46). [Note 8] Elsewhere, it looks like divination makes up for the deficiency of foresight (Memorabilia)IV,iii .12), so that human foresight can foresee some but not all. This again appears to be the case at the center of the teaching of Cambyses’ teaching to Cyrus, when he tells Cyrus that the best way to gain obedience by appearing wise is truly to be wise. Cyrus then asks Cambyses how to become really wise in foreseeing that which will prove to be useful (or: what would come to be). Cambyses answers:

Clearly, my son…by learning that which is such as to be known by learninjhg, just as you learned tactics. But such as is not for humans to learn, nor for human foresight to foresee, that you may find out by the art of divination, from the gods, and thus you would be wiser (phronimoteros) than others.

(Cyropaedia, I,vi .23)

Here, learning what is knowable by human learning is spoken of as at least a partial source of becoming wise in practical wisdom. The model is the way in which the study of tactics would help in the particular decisions of a general in the circumstances of a battle. Near the beginning of the lesson of Cyrus from his father, we learned how Cyrus had been instructed in the art of divination so that he would not have to rely on interpreters who might deceive him about what is revealed by the gods. (Cyropaedia, I,vi .2)  The knowledge or understanding (gignosko) of what is revealed by the gods is there said to be gained “by seeing what is to be seen and hearing what is to be heard,” or by a kind of looking and listening. While access to knowledge by learning is contrasted with access by divination, the art of divination itself is here spoken of as an art gained by instruction. What seems to be assisted but not gained fully by instruction is the sight of the right thing to be done in any particular circumstance. If divination is a blessing or the means to blessings from the gods, then it would seem, according Cambyses’ lesson to be interdependent with human effort, as Cambyses recalls his earlier lesson to Cyrus on how “Only those who have made themselves what they ought to be should ask for blessings (t’agatha) from the gods” (Cyropaedia, I,vi 5).

   But regardless of whether, in the account of the Socrates of Xenophon, humans can foresee to some extent or not at all by the exercise of human powers, and regardless of whether divination is needed less or available more with increased learning, it appears that Xenophon, and or Xenophon’s Socrates, did not believe that knowledge of how to choose what is best is possible for humans, who cannot see what will come to be as a result of each past or present event. One might conclude from this that the most important element of self knowledge in human participation in foresight is the knowledge of one’s own limitation (Memorabilia IV,ii .24-29), by which one would know what sort of questions to ask the gods. For practical wisdom belongs only to the gods. Xenophon or Xenophon’s Socrates thus appears to disagree with Aristotle and the rest of the Socratic philosophers regarding the possibility of practical wisdom.

   The kinds of questions one ought ask the gods, regarding outcomes based upon chance and probabilities, contains some annoying perplexity. Another element becomes clear in the theoretical section (XS, p.7,() “Some believe that oracles will answer any question, while others believe that they will answer no question.” But let us collect some pertinent examples to see if the question can become more clear. Chaerephon asked Delphi if there was anyone wiser than Socrates (Plato, Apology, 20a), and while it would be better to get a knowing educator, which particular may yet be difficult to discern. And famously, Xenophon asked Delphi not whether he should undertake the adventure of his anabasis, but how best to conduct this, given that the decision had been made to undertake the enterprise (Strauss, “Xenophon’s Anabasis,” 1983 ed p. 125).  Strauss notes that divination holds the place of an “architectonic art” in a section of Xenophon’s Oikonomicus (v-vi, Strauss, p. 125), as does money making in the Republic. These two have in common a concern with fortune, or human chance.

[+   Plutarch, in his essay in the Ethics on the Daimon of Socrates (Moralia, Loeb vol. Viii. 20) explains through a character in a dialogue that it is similar to the sort of apprehension that we have in dreams, when the body is quiet, while when we are awake, the daily tumult obscures us.

Socrates, on the other hand, had an understanding which, being pure and free from passion, and commingling with the body but little, for necessary ends, was so sensitive and delicate as to respond at once to what reached him.

                                    Translated by Phillip H. De Lacy and Benedict Einarson

The speaker then conjectures that “what reached him was not spoken language, but the unuttered words of a daemon making voiceless contact with his intelligence by their sense alone.” He compares the soul in this to an instrument tuned with cords more sensitive than a lyre. Most are not atuned.]

…This belief [that men receive inspiration only in dreams] arises from ignorance of the cause of this insensibility: the inner lack of atunement and the confusion in the men themselves. From this my friend Socrates was free, as is shown by the oracle delivered to his father when Socrates was yet a boy. It bade him let the child do whatever came into his mind, and not do violence to his impulses or divert them, but allow them free play, taking no further trouble about him than to pray to Zeus Agoraeus and the Muses, surely implying by this that he had a better guide of life in himself than a thousand teachers and attendants.

                                                                        Plutarch, Moralia, VIII. 20

Translated by Phillip H. De Lacy and Benedict Einarson

To repeat: according to Plutarch, an oracle told the father of Socrates not to inhibit the inclination of Socrates even as a child. And Plutarch interprets that Socrates had already a sufficient guide.

   Leo Strauss presents evidence and an argument contrary to the appearance that Xenophon presents foresight as impossible for man. Strauss asserts that in the account of Xenophon, Socrates is boasting of a merely apparent superiority. His true superiority is presented in I.6 of the Memorabilia, where he records an occasion on which Socrates seemed “most blessed,” and to lead his companions into the noble and good, by the activity there described. Strauss interprets the daimon of Socrates as his own power of foresight:

    Socrates had an unusually keen power of perception and therefore also of “divining” the fate of his companions; he referred to his daimon whenever he did not wish to give a reason for his conduct of his advice, or in order to give his reason an apparently unassailable support.

                                                                     Xenophon’s Socrates, p. 32

   He would also send them to the oracles when their course might be helped by divine sanction if followed (  ). But the Socratic talk about the daimon is a veiled way speaking about foresight.  Comprehensive knowledge of the human soul and politics might lead to the perception of some rather unique particulars. So too, the question of the relation between learning and divination in the science and practice of the arts reflect [Note 8] the question of the relation between theoretical and practical wisdom in the greatest of the arts.

   Under custom, where images and beliefs hold for us the place of the first principles, prophesy may hold the place of foresight. [Note 9] Foresight and divination may be analogous not only in Socratic speech, but in being. If it is possible to hear the counsel of foresighted divinities, this hearing may be possible because of the capacity latent in each for foresight.

[p. 11-12, 7 lines excluded]

   Aristotle presents an account of practical wisdom in his Ethics that may throw some light on the treatment of foresight in the Memorabilia.  In the sixth book of his Nichomachean Ethics, an account of practical wisdom is given, involving not only a calculative or deliberative faculty, but decisively, the eye of the soul, called mind or intellect (nous). The virtue or right function of both the epistemonikon and the logistikon depends upon the seeing of the eye of the soul. Nous sees the unchanging fundamental principles   on which the knowledge in theoretical depends, and also sees the contingent principles (archai) on which the knowledge in practical wisdom is based These plural principles are called “ultimate particulars (Ethics, VI,viii, 11; Poetics X, 2-4)Of these, there is perception but no scientific knowledge, and for this reason, there are not universal truths in ethics, and the principles of action are indemonstrable (Ibid, VI v). These are the ends of deliberation, the one right thing to be done in in each circumstance. Aristotle states:

As for Intelligence., it deals with ultimates at both ends of the scale. It is intelligence, not reasoning, that has as its objects primary terms and definitions as well as ultimate particulars.

                                                                                   Ethics, VI, 1143a 35-38)

 Nous is involved in phronesis, intelligence in practical wisdom, when the eye of the soul sees what is to be done. In doing the one right action fitting the circumstances, the phronemos or man of practical wisdom  is the defining principle of the mean and the measure of ethical virtue (1107a) In speaking of the daimion Socrates gives a poetic account in terms of the imagination, of the activity of nous foreseeing in practical wisdom, speaking not in the terms of philosophy but of right opinion (Aristotle, Politics, III, iv), to hearers that are citizens and not men of such rare and keen powers of perception The poetic account of foresight, though, may be nearer to the truth, The activity of this eye of the soul is notoriously transcendent of the individual and properly attributed to something divine, in the best terms we have available.

   The Ethics of Aristotle can be read against the background of the ascent and descent in Plato’s Republic (540 a-b), and the things said there about the vision of the good, the fullest of which may pertain to the being of a wise one doing the one right thing or the good.

   According to Hesiod, daimons are the souls of men from the golden race who mediate between gods and men. Hesiod introduces his account of the five races of men begging that we “deeply ponder how the gods and mortal men are from the same source” (Works and Days, 188). The golden race lived like gods amid abundance and free of toil, when Kronos ruled over heaven.

But when this race had been hidden under the cover of the earth,

They became, as almighty Zeus decreed, guardians of mortal men

Who keep watch on cases at law and hard hearted deeds,

being hidden in the air and going all over the earth

blessing men with treasures, as is their kingly right.

(Works and Days, 121-126)


The silver race too is hidden under the earth, and called “underground spirits. These “bless mortal men who, though second in rank still are given some honor” (W&D, 140-142)

   Xenophon, in Chapter Four of the first book, reports a conversation in which Socrates attempts to persuade Aristodemus, the impious dwarf, toward piety. Aristodemus, dissatisfied with the account of Socrates of the care of the gods for men, says that when the gods send him a counselor of what to say and do such as they send to Socrates, then he will believe that the gods care for him. At the conclusion of the response of Socrates, he tells Aristodemus to try the gods by serving them, and see whether they will counsel him in matters hidden from human beings. The divine activity of foresight comes in the service to the divine, and in the grace between the divine and the human things, “the gods grant a sign.” (I,i .9).

[From p. 15,

III. The Second Part of the Answer of Xenophon.

a) On I. i-x: That the other philosophers, unlike Socrates, are impious in conversation…]

   In attempting to show that Socrates was rather worthy of great honor from the city, Xenophon distinguishes Socrates from those who study the nature of all things, now called Pre-Socratic. In the second of three sections of the answer of Xenophon to the impiety charge in the indictment, he turn from the lack of impiety in the deeds to the lack of impiety in the speeches of Socrates. The account of the speeches aims to show that the jury “erred in judging what it is not manifest how they knew (I,i, 17).” At least part of the error of the citizens is to suppose that Socrates is the same as others,  those who talk about nature. Like the answer of Socrates to the old accusers in Plato’s Apology (18 a-24b), the account of Xenophon here serves to distinguish Socrates from the atheistic tendency  of the natural philosophers. This has been prepared by the discussion of Socrates’ daimon, which surely distinguishes him from the atheistic natural philosophers. It will be our aim here to follow out the theoretical section* of the account of this difference.

   Xenophon begins by saying that Socrates was always in the open, in the gymnasium or marketplace, speaking much to all who would hear, but never was he known to be impious in deeds seen or words heard:

…For he never spoke considering about the nature of all things in the manner of most of the others,as the sophists call the nature of the cosmos and the necessities by which each of the heavenly things comes to be.

                                                                                 (Memorabilia I,i .10)

Those who talk openly about the nature of all things are impious because the discovery of nature at the beginning of philosophy undermines the conventional beliefs in the mythic opinions of the first and most fundamental things, the origin or man and the way of the cosmos. Natural philosophy gives an account of the “necessities by which each thing comes to be” without reference to the gods, in terms of elements and motion. Jaffa gives a good example in his study of Lear: the belief that Zeus will punish human injustice by throwing lightening bolts is undermined by the account of the cause of lightening in terms of electricity. So is the belief that the care of the gods for men ensures that there is no disproportion between one’s just deserts and one’s fortunes (Mem. IV, iii,14; Hesiod, Works and Days, 238-285; Clouds, ). Men’s sight of the heavens and the earth is purged of the imagination. In the turn from the opinion of the city to natural philosophy, it is found that the gods have fled.

   In Plato’s Apology, Meletus asserts that Socrates believes the sun to be not a god, but a stone (26d). Socrates responds that Meletus has mistaken him for Anaxagoras. The atheism of the pre-Socratic thinkers is much like that of modern scientific “empiricism.” This seems to have emerged through a Renaissance repetition of the ancient Greek discovery of nature. It is the emergence of philosophy as such, rather than Socratic philosophy in particular, that undermines custom and is fundamentally at odds with pious belief. Yet, Socratic philosophy is a kind of philosophy.

   Upon the discovery of nature, it appears that justice or right is not natural, but exists only by human convention and agreement. Justice seems to be without trans-political support in the more general cosmos. Hence, Plato’s Repuiblic. In his description of the discovery of nature at the origin of philosophy, Leo Strauss states:

   It is not surprising that philosophers should first have inclined toward conventionalism. Right presents itself, to begin with, as identical with law or custom or as a character of it.; and custom or convention comes to sight, with the emergence of philosophy, as that which hides nature.

                                                            Natural Right and History, p. 93)

[p. 17]

   According to Xenophon, Socrates, for three reasons, held that even to give thought to such things as the nature of all things, is madness. These reasons are two practical considerations surrounding a central theoretical objection. First, Socrates considered whether such thinkers came to give thought to such things upon believing themselves to see the human things sufficiently, or whether they were “roused from the human things to consider the divine things (ta daimonia) as leading them to what is fitting to do.”

   The question of what is fitting to do is more urgent for men than the question of the nature of all things. Do these thinkers then know this- what is fitting to do- sufficiently from the human things, or do they turn to the divine things in order to learn this? Natural philosophy is criticized for being useless, and for not seeking a good that is human (as is theoretical wisdom, Aristotle, Ethics, vi, 1141b 2-8). The natural philosophers  disregard the human things, which lead to a knowledge of what is fitting to do, knowledge of right action. It is possible that the natural things are called divine in accordance with the beliefs of the city. But again, one wonders if there is not some kind of contemplation of the nature of things that is not useless but leads to what is fitting to do.

   Secondly, Socrates wondered that “it was not manifest to them that human beings were not empowered to discover these things.” (I,i, 13). The evidence of this limitation of humans is that even the “greatest thinking” [Note 11] or hubristic, of these talkers did not agree with one another, but took extreme opposite positions on questions of the nature of all things. In this, they behaved madmen. For as madmen exhibit extremes regarding fear, shame and worship (some even worshiping wood (hule), so these talkers exhibit extreme opinions. Worrying about the nature of all things caused…

…some to believe being to be one, others, infinitely many, and some (to believe) all always to move, others never to move and some (to believe) that all comes to be and passes away, others that nothing ever comes to be and passes away.

                                                                                              I,i, 14

[p.18] The extremes of the madman regarding piety are analogous to the extremes in thought of those who give thought to the nature of all things. Aspects of the regard of humans toward the gods are thus set in analogy with thought, corresponding to the distinction between characters of the passions and reason. This pattern of the presentation of the central objection of Socrates points to the question of whether or not the mean regarding piety is likewise analogous to the mean in thought regarding the first principles.

   The third objection of Socrates is, like the first, a practical objection. Socrates considered whether as those learning about the human things hope they are led by what they learn to do what they choose for themselves and others, those who pry into the divine things (ta thea) think that when they know the necessities by which each comes to be, that they will make wind (Aristophanes, Clouds, 385-395; Hippocrates, lost fragment), water seasons and other things when they need these things? Or are they satisfied only to know how each of these things comes to be (I,i, 15)? Do the natural scientists seek to apply their knowledge of the causes to produce the effects of these causes according to need,, mastering fortune and the elements as one obeyed by wind and sea? Or are they satisfied with knowledge for its own sake? Is the contemplation of these material and efficient causes, the theoretical wisdom of an Anaxagoras or Thales (Aristotle, Ethics, VI, 7, 1141 b 4-5), the same as that self-sufficient and thus satisfying activity which is the health of the best part of reason (Ibid., 1141 a 4)?

   Socrates own conversation was rather of the human things (I, i, 16). Through this kind of conversation one hopes to learn both what is fitting to do (.12) and to be able to do what one chooses for oneself and others (.15). “Xenophon in the Memorabilia (I,i, 16) links this knowledge to being kaloi te k’agathoi,” noble (beautiful) and good. Xenophon presents the difference of Socrates as that of one who is concerned with an entirely different subject matter than that of the natural philosophers. Xenophon is silent, though, regarding the commonality of Socrates with the other natural philosophers as philosophers. It will be helpful to follow the account of Leo Strauss in attempting to follow the account of Xenophon of the revolution or “turn” by which Socrates was different and yet similar, or the same in part, to those who converse about the nature of all things.

   By the turning from the divine or natural things to the human things, Socrates is said to have been the founder of political philosophy (Leo Strauss, NRH, p. 120, HPP, p. 4). [Note 12] Socrates is said to have been the first who called philosophy down from heaven and forced it to make inquiries about life and manners and good and bad things” NRH, p. 120). According to the most ancient reports, Socrates, after this turning, “directed his inquiry entirely into the human things” (HPP, p. 4). It seems that Socrates was induced to turn away from the study of the divine or natural things by his piety (HPP, p. 4). The account of Xenophon here (I,i,10-16) of the founding of political philosophy appears to agree with these ancient reports in ascribing the complete rejection of natural philosophy to the origin of Socratic or political philosophy.

   But Strauss emphasizes that Socrates continued the study of the nature of all things, even if he did not do this openly. While Socrates was always in the open, Socratic natural philosophy may yet be hidden, even in or through this open conversation. It is not itself open or apparent to all. Strauss reveals an excellent example of this character of Socratic conversation when, in interpreting the central objection of Socrates to the natural philosophers, he finds a piece of Socratic cosmology. Strauss writes that the list of the opinions of the natural philosophers would seem to imply…

That according to the sane Socrates, the beings are numerable or surveyable; those beings are unchangeable while the other things change, and those beings do not come into being or perish, while the other things come into being and perish.

                                                                Xenophon’s Socrates, p. 7

The Socratic cosmology is presented as the silent mean between immoderate extremes, analogous to the mean regarding fear, shame and worship neglected by the madman. Strauss states that “Socrates seems to have regarded the change which he brought about as a return to sobriety and moderation from the madness of his predecessors (NRH, p. 123). “Socrates did worry about the nature of all things, and to that extent, he too was mad; but his madness was at the same time sobriety: he did not separate wisdom (sophia) from moderation” (Xenophon’s Socrates, p. 7; Memorabilia III. 94). The cause of the turn of Socrates to the human things may have been his pursuit of wisdom rather than his piety.

   In describing Socratic conversation, Xenophon presents a list of questions which Socrates would consider. Xenophon, famously, writes:

   His own conversation was always considering the things of humans, what is pious and what impious, what is noble and what is base, what is just and what unjust, what is moderation and what madness, what is courage and what cowardice, what is a city and what a statesman, what is the rule of humans and what is a ruler of humans and what is a ruler of humans, and others, of which knowing would lead one to be noble and good, but ignorance (of which) is justly called slavery.

                                                                                 (Memorabilia, I,i, 16

   The “What is” question points toward the form or idea (eidos) of a thing and identifies this with its nature. Contrary to both custom and pre-Socratic natural philosophy, the nature of a thing is shown not in that out of which a thing has come into being (Memorabilia I,i, 12) but by the end which determines the process of its coming to be (NRH p. 123)., but by the end which determines the process of its coming to be (NRH p. 123). Particular examples at their completion are those which most fully show the nature or class character of a thing. Because the kinds or classes are parts of a whole, the whole has a natural articulation, the natural logos. [Note 13] An example of a point of this natural articulation is the fundamental twofold division between the “beings” and the “things” in the conjecture of Strauss of the silent Socratic cosmology presented above. In Book VI of Plato’s Republic, there are two kings, one the king of the intelligible and another king of the visible.

   Through the human things, Socrates discovered a new kind of natural philosophy and a new kind of being. It is due fundamentally to this difference in object that Socratic philosophy differs from pre-Socratic philosophy, and from our natural history and science. Strauss states:

Socrates, it seems, took the primary meaning of the word “nature” more seriously than did his predecessors; he realized that “nature” is primarily form or “idea.” If this is true, he did not simply turn away from the study of natural things, but originated a new kind of the study in which, for example the nature of the human soul or man is more important than, for example, the nature of the sun (HPP, p. 5). Contrary to appearances , Socrates’ turn to the study of the human things was based, not upon disregard of the divine or natural things, but upon a new approach to the study of all things.

                                                                             (NRH, p. 122)

[In Plato’s Apology, Socrates distinguishes between divine wisdom, which belongs not to men but to “the God,” and his own human wisdom, which consists in part in knowing he does not have divine wisdom. There too, though, he claims not to know how to cultivate the human as well. It is strange that we should know the human without knowing the divine, but this is true in one sense, that the human is accessible.]

   Socratic philosophy presupposes and emerges out of pre-Socratic natural philosophy. Before turning to the human things, Socrates himself studied natural philosophy (Phaedo 99). He seems to have been well at school with the things of Anaxagoras, Pythagoras and Hippocrates, not to mention Homer. Socratic philosophy emerges when the appeal from custom to nature regarding the causes is transferred from the direct inquiries of the natural philosopher into the divine or natural things, to be combined with the political concerns of man with right or justice. It is as though being cannot be addressed directly by this faculty, and so appears by reflection and analogy through man and the human things. That is the fundamental difference between the Neoplationists and the tradition of metaphysics, though they follow an account given nowhere better than by Plato. Socratic philosophy appeals from customary beliefs to nature in asking the “What is” questions, which are parts of the question of the nature of man and how men should live. [Note 14] The asking of the what is questions implies the attempt to ascend from opinion to knowledge regarding the nature of man. By asking what is the best life for man, Socrates discovered natural; right, and in this founded political philosophy. Strauss writes that ” the distinction between nature and convention which marks the emergence of natural philosophy retains its full significance for Socrates and for classical natural right in general” NRH, p. 121).

   From the inhuman madness of natural philosophy, not unlike the attempt to know “Being” directly in metaphysics since Aristotle, Socrates returns to begin from the things that are “first for us” NRH, p. 123-4), from opinion, (NRH, p. 124), from the visible looks eidos), or from common sense (NRH, p. 123). Socratic philosophy begins from custom or from the beliefs of the city (Mem. IV, iv, 30-31; Aristotle Ethics, 1096 b1-12), regarding the way of the cosmos and the things good and bad for man. This teaching of custom is embodied in “visible” poetic images for apprehension by the human imagination. Conversation regarding the most important things ascends from opinion because opinion proves to point toward knowledge and truth as an artifact points toward its original. Strauss states:

   The opinions prove to be solicited by the self subsisting truth, and the ascent to the truth proves to be guided by the self subsisting truth which all men always divine.                                                                                        (NRH, 124).

   But upon returning to the human things, Socrates does not hold conventional beliefs  conventionally, as axioms taken as known from which to reason downward toward a conclusion. For example, he does not begin as do his accusers by assuming that they know what piety is and what Socrates thought and conclude from this that Socrates is guilty of impiety for not believing in the gods of the city. Believing in the gods in which the city believes may not be the whole of piety. Socratic philosophy rather turns the opinions into “steppingstones and springboards to reach what is free of hypothesis at the beginning of the whole” (Republic 511 b5). Trust in the visible things is transformed into dialectical insight. [Note 15] Socrates cannot believe the conventional opinions as these are conventionally held any more than one could believe the shadows of visible artifacts to be real things (Ibid, 514 b5).

   Strauss writes: We have learned from Socrates that the political things are the key to the understanding of all things (Thoughts on Machiavelli, p. 19). Also, Xenophon’s Socrates, p. 8). Socratic philosophy replaces the activity of the poet of making myths with the construction in speech of the best regime. On the principle that the political things are the key to the understanding of all things, the most thorough account of the good life and of the highest beings is presented by Socrates not in a dialogue on questions of metaphysics or epistemology, but rather, as in Plato’s Republic, in a dialogue on the regime (politea) which asks the question “What is justice,” and is answered by the theme of the best regime. The just and unjust are the central pair above in which the good form has a what and an opposite. The Socratic cosmology is seen reflected in the nature of the soul, which is in turn reflected in the political things, and especially the articulation of the best regime. (501 b1-7; also 506 e1-507 a3, 490 b4-5; 484 c2-d6,540 a8-b1; 368c6-369 a1).


 Socrates held that seeing the things of which the what is question is asked would lead one to be “noble and good (I,i .16). Socratic phronesis and sophia are joined in this activity. In the Socratic work of unfolding and going through the treasures which the ancient wise men have left written in books, Socrates seemed to Xenophon to lead those hearing into the noble and good (I, vi .14). Socrates is one who by his thought is the cause or source of eupraxa, well-doing or right action (Aristotle Politics VII.iii; Memorabilia I, iv .15). By Socrates’ contemplation, he is enriched with virtue (IV, ii. 9), which is wisdom (III, ix, 5), and thus blessed. By the activity of his well ordered soul among his companions (Strauss, XS, p. 116-117), they are led into the virtues, or into the noble and good (NRH p. 128, Aristotle, Ethics, 1144b12, 1145 a1-2).

   Because Socrates goes beyond the beliefs of the city regarding the highest beings, we find again that he is in a way guilty as charged, and that Xenophon hides his account by hiding the wisdom of Socrates. Xenophon hides the wisdom of Socrates because the city cannot judge correctly regarding the whole of wisdom from the appearances which can be made visible to all. The citizens cannot see the difference between Socrates and the natural philosophers which makes his similarity with them an aspect of his virtue. Socrates brings conventional piety to its completion in his contemplation of the beings, his moderate cosmology, just as Socratic foresight is the fulfillment of conventional divination. The attempt to reconcile the city to philosophy is limited to opinion. The philosopher can be reconciled to this limitation. After the ascent from opinion or law to nature, “It appears more clearly than ever before that opinion, or law, contains truth…” (Strauss, HPP, p. 4) It is possible for Xenophon to veil his account of the philosophic activity of Socrates in an account given in terms of opinion because of the analogous relation of opinion to knowledge, or because the many opinions point toward the philosophic life.

   [p. 24-27] It was not wondrous, then, “That the jury erred in judging what it is not manifest how they knew” (I,i .17). The citizens do not have knowledge either of what piety is or of the nature of Socratic thought, as these are not among the “things that all have seen.” “But,” Xenophon continues, “Is it not wondrous that they should have ignored what all have seen?” Because Socratic thought cannot be made known to all from considering his conversation,Xenophon returns to the evidence of his actions. Xenophon proceeds here as he did in the first part of the refutation of the impiety charge, by inferring or suggesting the beliefs of Socrates from his actions. Xenophon here (I,i .18) presents an example that is different from the earlier examples of the sacrifice and divination of Socrates. The example is of the pious-like conduct of Socrates in office, his obedience to an oath in spite of the rancor of the many and the threats of many powerful. When Socrates was on the council, and had taken an oath to give counsel according to the laws, he was chosen to preside over the assembly when the people wanted to condemn two generals and their colleagues to death illegally by a single vote. Courageous in upholding the laws, Socrates would not permit the vote to be recorded, despite the danger to him from his fellow Athenians.

   From this example of piety in political action, also an example of his justice (IV,iv .2), in which the regard of Socrates for the highest beings is inseparable from his political action, Xenophon presents the beliefs of Socrates which are the cause of such action. Like the action of Socrates in the example, the beliefs of Socrates are said to differ from those of the many. One wonders if Socrates did not despise these beliefs of the many, just as in divination he is said to have “despised all human opinions in comparison with the counsel given by the gods” (I,iii .4). Xenophon writes:

For the care of gods for men, he thought, was not the way in which the many believed,. For whereas those of this sort (believe ) the gods to know and not to know, Socrates held the gods to see all, the things said and the things done and things planned in silence, and that they are present everywhere, and signal men regarding all the human things.

                                                                                       (I,i, 19)

The difference between the belief of Socrates and that of the many regarding the care of the gods for men is evident from his two conversations in the Memorabilia on the gods (I, iv; IV, iii). In speaking tp Aristippus and Euthydemus regarding the care of the gods for men, Socrates does not speak of the providence of the gods in upholding human justice by delivering misfortune as punishment, nor nor of the gods caring for the bodily fortunes of men. But the many, perhaps always and everywhere, tend to think in this way of the phronesis in the all which disposes all things as it pleases (I,iv .17) If an innocent child suffers and dies we either say that the event serves some unseen higher good, or we say that therefore there is no God. The divine is thus held to know the visible corporeal things, but not to know the things of the soul. The “purified theology” which proceed as from the Socratic discovery of natural right restores the opinion of a corespondance between justice or goodness and one’s own advantage (III,ix .4), by thinking of unjust or wicked deeds in terms of the natural health of the soul. To speak seriously, it might be that one could say that because of natural right, things are just as if…

The transgressors of the laws ordained by the gods pay a penalty that men can in no way escape, as some, when transgress the laws given by men, escape punishment either by guile or force…

                                                        (IV,iv 2; Also I,iv 19 and III,ix .12)

Human laws and the administration of punishments by the polis are often needed to approximate a correspondence between fortunes, or one’s own advantage, and justice. The human administration of justice makes the harmful effects of unjust actions manifest to all, so that justice is made obviously advantageous and the laws are obeyed.But if the soul of one who does injustice is made less healthy and harmed by the action, then the acts, transgressing what is right and lawful by nature, of themselves inflict a punishment” that none can escape But the service of Socrates to the gods may be his tending or care of the souls of men.


   In his Apology of Socrates to the Jury, Xenophon reports that before the trial Hermogenes asked Socrates if he ought not consider his what apology or defense he was going to make before the jury (.3). In the answer of Socrates to Hermogenes, he says that he had twice tried to consider his defense, but was contradicted by his daimon. [Note 16] Thus, it appears to have been thought that it would have been imprudent for Socrates to deliver such a defense. [Note 17] If Socrates is in a way guilty as charged, and yet is not impious, unjust, immoderate nor a corrupter but an educator of the youth in the noble, and thus a a great benefactor of the city, then the laws or customs of the  city would appear to be flawed. The public defense of Socrates would then have been an open subversion of the laws of the city. But because it is highly unlikely that the city can be ruled by what is superior to custom, such a defense would have been harmful to the city. By avoiding the presentation of a serious defense, the philosophers avoid effecting the city in the way that the immoderate natural philosophers do. Thus the philosophers avoid becoming the cause of the injustice for which Socrates was mistakenly accused.

   But if the pursuit if wisdom is the health of the soul, then the philosopher is not unjust even if he progresses from the beliefs of the city toward knowledge of the greatest things and beings, and even if the philosopher shares his contemplation with friends, and this activity involves the private subversion of the claim of custom top the supremacy of knowledge, for the end of the city is the same as the end of man, the activity of the healthy soul in contemplation and friendship, or happiness. There cannot be a happy or healthy city without the happiness of individuals. Thus, in pronouncing  against its own end and purpose- the completion of human souls- the city mistakes its own advantage and oversteps the natural limits of politics.

   Xenophon concludes his answer to the charge of impiety as he began this answer, with a statement of his wonder:

I wonder, then, how the Athenians can have been persuaded that Socrates was not moderate toward the gods, when he was never impious toward the gods in word or deed, but was rather saying and doing such as one who would be thought most pious.

                                                                   (I,i, .20)

  Socrates is acquitted by Xenophon of immoderation toward the gods, but not of not believing in the gods of the city, from the evidence of words and deeds, though not of silent thoughts. That Socrates is in any way immoderate or criminal surely does not follow from the questionable-ness of his belief in the gods of the city. The lack of any immoderation in Socrates, as well as his being resembled by one who would be thought most pious, is due not to the piety of Socrates, but rather to his wisdom.


Postscript on Modern Psychology

   “What is sanity and what madness” is one of the Socratic questions, showing the place of psychology within Socratic political philosophy. Psychology as a separate science was just emerging, as in the direct essay of Aristotle of the title Psyche, a study of dreams, and of course his Ethics, his “structure and dynamics” of the soul. He follows the fundamental division of the two parts of the soul, distinguishing “ethical” from intellectual virtue so well that it must be argued that the Good is still king of the intelligible, and that there is par excellence good and evil regarding intellectual virtue. The intellectual virtues are the measure of the practical and theoretical faculties disturbed in madness, not so that all the imprudent and unwise might be quickly drugged for the great benefit of the whole, but so that we have any scientific measure at all. The neurons and chemicals cannot provide this. In addition to ethical vice, there is intellectual vice, understood in the collective shadow figures of literature and history. But that Justice is the good of the soul, and either is or is necessary to human happiness, while the unjust soul is in faction with its own true nature and within and with the outside world- this ground is shown most clearly through the best regime beginning from the three part soul, before moving to the two and the transcendent one. The three part city and soul: where three elements appear in a type represented by Monarchy, Aristocracy and Polity, seeking reason, honor and pleasures or compassion- is the basis in thought of the common model or archetype that connects political science and psychology. These arise in each city due to the dominance of the elements of the spirited pursuit of honor and beauty, the wisdom of its assembly, and the baser concerns of the many, as written by Plato at the opening of Book VIII of his Republic.

   The account of Xenophon in the Memorabilia contains a theory of certain kinds of madness as extremes regarding the emotions of fear, shame and reverence (I,i .14). In our psychiatry, there is a fundamental distinction between character or personality disorders and psychoses or more fundamental malfunctions of the rational capacity- following the common distinction of the things of the heart and the things of the mind. Xenophon’s extremes of the emotions correspond to intellectual extremes in philosophy. We rather find the particulars addressed by such words as “Schizophrenia” and Psychoses to be regarding the comprehensive theoretical context in which a person lives (“Aliens are controlling our t.v. sets”) or the practical circumstances in which he lives (“They are trying to poison me”) and some of these things might be true, while others not. Humans are incredibly ignorant regarding both the theoretical and practical contexts in which they live, leaving a great area open in which we might be mistaken.

   A Socratic teaching is given by Xenophon directly at III, ix, as E.C. Marchant translates:

Madness, again, according to him, was the opposite of wisdom (sophia) Nevertheless, he did not identify Ignorance with madness; but not to know yourself, and to assume and think that you know what you do not, he put next to madness. “Most men, however,” he declared, “do not call those mad who err in matters that lie outside the knowledge of ordinary people: madness is the name they give to errors in matters of common knowledge,

“being in difference from the what the many have come to know,” is another way to translate what is called madness, and it follows that if philosophy transcends common sense it will indistinguishable to many from madness. But the formula of Xenophon in Greek is a very interesting way of referring to common sense.

…and in a big rather small way, (megalan par anoian, from para-noeo, a “strong delusion.” The interesting root is noeo, and so, “to think amiss,” and the not used by the Greeks yet to refer especially to the condition of mental fear. One marked feature of delusion of a certain sort is an inability to question the context in which one has become, therefore, trapped. It is interesting to trace the original words recovered from the Greek by our medical psych-iatry, and we are fond of asking the shrinks to consider their meaning- usually for the first time.  Psych-osis” means what? And “neuro-osis,” the attributions even change, as for “schizo-phrenia, no longer used to refer to “dissociative disorder.” Hence, it quickly becomes clear that from the meanings of words, an well as the mere long term effects of drugs, our psychiatry literally does not know- beyond common sense- what it is doing. But because an unquestioned assumption is always involved, direct questioning and blunt truth is often a remedy, as thought the sight of one in senses could be followed till perception is restored. Also notable, in the category “knowledge of ignorance,” is that the first principles come to the psychologist just as they do to all men, either by common sense, tradition, fashionable opinion or philosophic ethics. Xenophon relates a Socratic teaching that common knowledge is in fact the measure of madness.Socrates held that madness was different from ignorance, and virtue knowledge, hence madness is different from vice, however it is feared.

   Our psychology and psychiatry must now follow the Socratic turn, or the destruction of our civilization is likely. The very science that unleashed these powers has hitherto made it impossible for us to inquire into how these powers might be used well, even telling us that it is impossible to know anything about these matters most important to man, while profiting by the sophistic spread of drugs and first principles hardly better than what is available to the common man. By showing us the Socratic turn to follow the Renaissance repetition of the discovery of nature, Xenophon’s Socrates a way to subordinate the new technologies within a genuinely scientific pursuit that is appropriate to the faculties of man, rather than the instruments of science extending the bodily senses.


Note 1: West, Thomas G and Grace Starry, ed. Four Texts on Socrates, 1984. Note 38 to the translation of Plato’s Apology explains that while Plato appears to have altered the statement of the charges by the accuser, the only change Xenophon makes from the statement as apparently recorded by Diogenes is to replace “bringing in” with “carrying in.” One cannot but think of the discussion of Socrates with Euthyphro regarding a thing carried and and thing carrying. The allusion is to the question of active and passive regarding inspiration and the daimon. “Gods of the city,” too, has a strange ring in a trial of Socrates by Athens, as the goddess of the city is wisdom, and Socrates its fulfillment. This is another parallel between the trial of Socrates by Athens and the crucifixion by mankind or Jerusalem.

Note 2: On envy and the attempt to reconcile philosophy and the city, see Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, III,i, .38-40). Leo Strauss, in Xenophon’s Socrates (1972, p. 120) writes:”…The concealment of Socrates’ Sophia is the defense of Socrates.”

Note 3: The Greek word daimon and its derivatives are used to refer to 1. “The divinities,” or the gods, 2. lesser spirits which mediate between gods and men, and 3. the natural or divine things, “ta daimonia.” If Socratic philosophy is founded in the discovery of a new kind of nature which is of higher dignity than either the fates, the root of contingent being, or “the elements,” one wonders if what the poetic tales understand to be gods  are not discovered to be rather spirits mediating between human beings and the highest things in a way analogous to the Socratic activity of mediation in unfolding the treasures left in books by the ancient wise men (I,i .16). The connection between the gods, the spirits and the elements in Galatians 4: 1-10, especially 4:3 and 4: 8-10, is interesting in connection with this daimon in Socratic philosophy. Strauss writes: “Daimonic here means almost the same as what is called “natural” by others. Perhaps Socrates’ daimonion was in an outstanding manner something natural” (  ).

Note 4: Leo Strauss. Xenophon’s Socrates, note 2, pp.130-131. Strauss states that some believed in the daimon of Socrates, and thus believed that he was favored by the gods, and yet these convicted Socrates of not believing in the gods of the city because they were envious. Euthyphro too suggests this as a cause (Plato, Euthyphro, 3c). But it seems that this contradictory thought is only implicit in the action of those who strike out against philosophy, and is not held in any conscious way.

Note 5: The possibility of thinking what is said in John 10:1-39, especially :34, should be kept in mind.

Note 6: “The greatest of these” seems to refer either to the results of the practice of each art, or the greatest of the arts, or both The three areas of economics, politics and the art of marriages are subdivisions of practical wisdom.

Note 7: Cyropaedia, I,vi .46. Here there is reference to the knowledge of the god of “what shall come to pass as the result of each past or present event.”

Note 8: On the use of lots, see, Memorabilia I,ii, .9.

Note 9: Allan Bloom, “Richard II” (in Shakespeare as Political Thinker, 1981, pp. ). This point is also apparent in the concluding statement of Xenophon on the merit of Socrates. Socrates was “so pious that he did nothing without the counsel of the gods…(and) so wise (phronimos) that he did not err in judging the better and the worse and needed no other to show (him) but (was) self-sufficient in knowledge (gnosin) of these” (Memorabilia IV,vii .11).

Note 10: Modernity has seen a vast lowering of the meaning of “mind,” as is evident in what we test in “intelligence” tests. The repeated modern reactions against “reason” level a critique which does not hold against the Socratic account of mind The moderns have appealed from a faculty called by the ancients “calculation,” logistike– potentially an instrument, as in arts or techne, and at best a faculty called episteme, to the passions as in Rousseau, and then to a “will,” but not yet to the ancient Nous. (Reason is distinct from calculation after Book IV of the Republic, but not before.) Hence, for example, our psychology remains an instrument whose ends must be derived from outside the science.

Notes to III, a, pp. 15-

Note 11: Under custom, it is impiety to think big or great thoughts, a hubris the opposite of moderation, punishable by the gods. But Socratic philosophy seems to follow a path that is both great thinking and yet not immoderate toward the gods in the way that the sophists or natural philosophers are, because Socrates did not separate wisdom from moderation (III, ix, 4-6).

Note 12: NRH will be used to refer to Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, HPP to The History of Political Philosophy.

Note 13: There is a similarity between the Socratic turn toward the eidai and the statement of John 1: 1 that the word (logos) was in the beginning. There is also the similarity of looking to the end rather than the beginning to see the fullest nature of man.

Note 14: The Socratic account of what the beings are does not appear or is not apparent.  Strauss notes that the typical conversation of Socrates shown by Xenophon in the Memorabilia does not address these “What is” questions. There are only 3 conversations in the Memorabilia that are what is questions among the conversations (Law, XS, p. 8). Strauss suggests: The typical conversation stands in the same relation to his conversation about the what is of the human things as those what is questions stand to his cosmology.” Ibid, p. 8). In asking what the beings are in the Socratic account, we are confronted with a ladder of ascending analogies which extends, as it appears, higher than we are able to see. Are the beings “universals,” as are the invisible classes of things, tables and rocks, rivers mountains and sunsets, and the innumerable kinds of things? Or are the beings rather eternal forms of the human things, such as piety, the noble, the just courage, the city and politician,the governance of men and the governor of men Strauss writes once that it is doubtful that Socrates thought that there is an idea or form of the city (The city and Man, p. 92-93 center). There may not be forms of artificial things, though these seem to imitate the plants and animals in their being distinct beings. The being of the city, and so of political or “vulgar” virtue may  be derived from the nature of man.

   There is a a notable division among the kinds of question listed by Xenophon, first piety then the beautiful/noble, the just, and the other cardinal virtues, courage and moderation, then suddenly a different kind of kinds: pairs of apparently different political bodies, city and man, and the leading figures therein, the politikos or “statesman” and the ruler of men in general- as would include the household and village. In the Euthyphro, Socrates asks, Is the pious not part of the just? That is, the forms or the whats of things are elements, and the intelligibility of the human things, the natural articulation of things accessible through language, is vast.

Note 15: See Jacob Klein Plato’s Meno, p. 124, (center to bottom) with 2 Corinthians 3:12-16. The conjecture is that the visible” things in the account of the divided line in Plato’s  Republic (VI) are or are also the images in poetry and law, the objects of the imagination, and belief which, as noted, have certain archetypes or similarities in form and meaning. This analogy seems to provide a key to the reading of the divided line and allegory of the cave in Plato’s Republic. Allan Bloom, in his Interpretive Essay, (p. 403) states that “only by constant reference to the divided line can one understand the allegory of the cave.” Bloom also states: “The poetic images are to be used as geometers use representations of circles,” to see something of which the object drawn is only a representation.

Note 16: If the daimon of Socrates is his foresight, then it would be strange for Socrates to describe his daimon as something which contradicts his own intention. But Socrates may speak this way as part of his irony.

Note 17: The report of Xenophon of the intervention of the daimon of Socrates in the attempt to deliver a defense clarifies the introduction of Socrates to his defense in Plato’s Apology.

   One wonders if Plato and Xenophon did not confer on their Apologies. In 399 B.C., Plato was leaving Athens for Egypt, and Xenophon was trying to get the soldiers home from his anabasis. E. C Marchant, in his Introduction to the Loeb edition of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, discusses the early growth of the Socratic literature, p. xi-xii

*Taken from a 1985 paper for the class of Wayne Ambler on Xenophon, at the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas. The Socratic turn has also been described in “Philosophic Psychology” and the Introduction to Philosophy essays in the menu at the top of the page.