Socrates, who lived from 470 to 399 B.C., is separated from us by nearly two and one half millennia. This means that he had not in common with our progressive age the automobile, the aeroplane, the television, the computer, the telephone (whether cellular or regular), video games, virtual reality, etc. Can we, then, “relate” to him? Is he in any way relevant to our lives and our problems? Can we possibly learn from him and benefit from his teaching?

On the face of it, the answer is in the negative. The gap is too wide. Moreover, had his teaching been relevant, it would well have been absorbed during the many centuries which have elapsed since his times and incorporated in the civilization into which we were born and which we continue.

Yet, on second thought, such a categorical statement may be all too hasty, and requires re-examination. Maybe the fault is in us, as in the process of cultural evolution we march all too energetically forward, and in our zeal for progress forget and neglect the foundations of our civilization, the great men of ages past who seem not to age, but loom large, impervious to the passage of time. Their teachings or artistic contributions stand out, irrespective of the vicissitudes of history and despite the advancement of science and technology. 

To be sure, lip service is paid to them and their names may even be engraved on the facade of a university building. But few delve into their works, and their writings collect dust in the dark recesses of libraries, as we are eager to discover the new answers to old problems and the recent recipes for salvation. This, perhaps, is most characteristic of America, a civilization oriented towards the future, but also older civilizations are affected by this trend.

This, in our judgment, is a mistaken approach. With all the significance of the advancement of knowledge and of new discoveries and innovations–and these must not be belittled in the sphere of science and technology–there is perennial wisdom in the heritage of mankind which is instructive and relevant in our time and place. There are individuals whose contributions to our civilization–in the good sense of the word–strike us as being of great worth and may prove seminal. Socrates is one such figure whose teaching is not dated and whose inspiration may greatly benefit us.

Let us, however, be more specific in justifying the relevance of Socrates to us. He lived and acted in a society which, for most of his life, was democratic, and which left us a testimony to his activity and personality. The democratic setting (despite some important differences between ancient and modern polity) forms a common substructure for our contact with Socrates. Another factor, of crucial importance, which made us choose Socrates was that he “communicated with his fellow-citizen–indeed, he communicated in a very peculiar and distinctive manner, which made him a profound communicator, a rank higher than that of a great communicator.

Socrates’s success in this role may well have been founded on the absence of the modern media of communication television, radio, and even newspapers. Without such means of addressing the masses, Socrates could choose to talk to people, and obviously to listen to their responses. True, ancient Athenians could be addressed en masse on various occasions of political assembly. Such an address was a precursor of modern media, which can reach much wider masses. Still, Socrates shunned such occasions and preferred to talk to one man at a time, though others could, and often did, listen. Thus, Socrates did not “interact” with any medium of communication, whatever such interaction may mean; he engaged in a dialogue, an exchange of ideas between two human beings.

The dialogue, as Socrates developed it, and as Plato was further to refine it, was not our interacting, for it focused not on information but on reflection, not on “useful” knowledge but on theoretical insight, not on a search of facts, important though they may often be, but on quest of wisdom. Nor was the Socratic dialogue a mere exchange of gossip–technically a dialogue too–but a discussion aiming, at least as far as Socrates was concerned, at the clarification of truth and the exposure of falsehood, inconsistency, fallacy.

Living in a civilization in which people drive to work, concentrate on the job, relax before the television screen, we have little of the opportunity which Socrates had to take a walk through the streets of the city, encounter an occasional acquaintance and enter into a discussion which may lead to profound conclusions. This, seemingly incidental, pursuit of wisdom is not open to us; at least, it is considerably restricted. Yet the fruits of the Socratic dialogues are available to date in extant Platonic works, in the form of dialogues as well (some of which may be genuinely Socratic, all of which are instructive). Due to the art of writing–in Aeschylus’s words, “the all-remembering skill”[1]–the reflections and the mode of argument of Socrates can be communicated over the ages. We can, if we so choose, learn and benefit from them.

Plato in his dialogues made Socrates the protagonist, without informing us when it was the historical Socrates who spoke and when it was Plato who spoke through his teacher’s mouth. There is a wide agreement, however, that the Apology is essentially an authentic, if stylized, reproduction of the Socratic speech. Indeed, strictly speaking, it is not a dialogue, but a speech of Socrates in his own defense before an Athenian court, presenting his main concerns in life and the way he pursued them. The speech, which includes a few mini-dialogues, explains Socrates to us, and contains much that is instructive and relevant. We shall, therefore, limit our exposition to this single work, picking out those issues which are most pertinent for our times and circumstances.

The Apology, as noted, is the speech for the defense which Socrates held, having been accused of corrupting the youth and introducing new deities by three Athenians, when he was seventy years old. In truth, as Socrates argues, the charges were a mere pretext, and the true reason for bringing him to court was resentment against him in certain segments of the Athenian society. In Athens anybody could be taken to court by anyone else, and it was up to the court to decide on the guilt and the punishment. If the discretion of the court was rather wide, it has to be borne in mind that on such a serious charge, which could carry the death penalty, it was a popular court consisting of what we would call the peers of the accused that decided on the issue. The court in this case consisted of five hundred Athenians, appointed by lot for one year out of a list of citizens. The apparent idea was that the court had to represent the will of the people: it was the sizable sample, the limited time of office and the blind lot, that assured that the court was the embodiment of the Athenian citizenry. It was such a court that passed the iniquitous judgment on Socrates, 280 to 220, and then condemned him to death–not the only transgression of justice in the history of Athens. Clearly, the Athenian democracy deserved less than three cheers.

Our own jury system, democratic in its own way, is more carefully circumscribed by legal provisions, and less likely to engage in politically or publicly motivated trials. It needs no reminder that our modern system is not immune to trends in public opinion, and it may occasionally condemn the innocent and set the guilty free, under the spell of public mood. The responsiveness of the jury to public opinion may be considered a democratic manifestation, as the jurors respond to or represent the wider society, but this need not coincide with objective justice–as it did not in the trial of Socrates. Still, modern democracy would not condemn a Socrates to death, however unpopular he might have been.

Yet it must be remembered that, if the Athenian democracy stands accused of a judicial murder, this must not be seen as a justification of, say, the Spartan regime, which was authoritarian and in some respects totalitarian. For in Sparta Socrates would not have been likely to pursue his avocation till the age of seventy. Indeed, he would be unlikely to be what he was in a society which hardly produced prominent men of reflection, writers and artists. If in Athens the mills of injustice ground slowly, in Sparta they had no opportunity to encounter men of free spirit.

How you, O Athenians, have been affected by my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that they almost made me forget who I was–so persuasively did they speak and yet they have hardly uttered a word of truth.[2]

These are the opening words of the Apology. There is more in this opening statement than meets the eye. Ostensibly, it is almost a standard gambit to a disputation, but actually Socrates alludes here to a core distinction between his intellectual pursuit and that of his accusers. They belong to the class of rhetoricians, closely related to the sophists, who perfected the art of speech as a means to success in politics and public life. As in democratic procedures, it is the force of persuasion that is the way to success. the Athenians were quick to develop speech-making and argument to an art and a profession. The main objective, as some of the sophists brazenly declared, was not to look for truth, but to find effective ways of convincing the people, the authority, the court of justice, to accept one’s point of view. Some went even so far as to argue that there is no objective truth, truth being what is the interest of the contender for power.[3]

Socrates rejects such an approach. Truth is the ultimate object of intellectual inquiry–truth simple and unadorned, to be sought with strict logical rules and not in flowery and persuasive talk. A geometric theorem is logically proven and not ascertained by an eloquent speech. Such is the way for seeking truth in other domains. The intellectual argument is not about scoring a point, or winning in a contest, but about the quest of truth. This is the essence of philosophy, the love and pursuit of wisdom. A philosopher is he who dedicates his life to such a pursuit. He is a man apart from the clever manipulators of words, seeking a personal advantage, or engaging in discussion for ulterior motives.

Socrates does not underestimate the actual influence and the social power of such manipulators. Indeed, he admits to be sure, with pungent irony–that his accusers, who are such people, almost made him forget who he was. It is this powerful weapon of the gift of the gab, which he looks at with concern and apprehension, for it leads people astray from the search of truth to the quest of success, with no regard for truth.

Is there a lesson here for what transpires in our modern democratic society? Are we engaged in search of truth, or rather looking for ways to make friends and influence people? Do we in our jury trials look for truth, or does each side try to move heaven and earth to forward its case, using emotional appeal, histrionics, playing on ethnic sentiments, smearing and glorifying, in order to win? If truth wins, it is not necessarily for the right reason.

And what about the political contest? Are the speeches of the contenders for power–from the presidential to the local–directed by the search of truth, or by the quest to find favor with the voters irrespective of the convictions of the candidate for office, if he retains any? Are not the modern contenders for political power counselled, guided, driven, by professional public-opinion advisers, the born-again sophists?

In ancient Athens the economic activity did not involve efforts to market the commodities to the consumers. What was produced–rarely in excess–was easily consumed. In our days of bountiful production and fierce competition the art of persuasion has also spilled into the economic domain. Here, too, we find born-again sophists, who are eager to sell their paying master’s products by hook or by crook. They do not offer us the true information about the worth and benefit of the product, but prefer to present it in all its attractions, whether intrinsic, incidental, or even invented. A medicine is advertised claiming its benefits (intrinsic worth), its popularity (incidental), the happy smiles of its assorted users (invented). One need not adduce examples of other commodities–automobiles, toothpaste, air travel, pizza, etc. The point is that the focus of advertising is not to inform the potential buyers about the true and accurate worth of the commodity or the service, but to convince them to buy it, whether it be useful, partially useful, useless, or even harmful (as in the case of cigarettes).

Callias, if your two sons were foals or calves, there would be no difficulty in finding some one to put over them; we should hire a trainer of horses, or a farmer, probably, who would improve and perfect them in their proper virtue and excellence; but as they are human beings, whom are you thinking to place over them? Is there any one who understands human and political virtue?[4]

It is in the course of the speech that Socrates, alleging his own lack of qualification as a teacher, introduces the anecdote of his conversation with Callias, the father of two sons, for whom he was eager to provide good education. Characteristically, Socrates poses the question in a provocative way, insinuating the difficulty of the problem by an analegous, but not quite similar, example: The education of children compared and contrasted with the cultivation of animals. The example may be startling in its simplicity, and perhaps offensive in its apparent crudeness: Who, after all, thinks of his sons as foals or calves?

Yet, it is such simple examples that may stir people to think about the root of the problem. For just as the trainer of horses is bent on improving them, so there ought to be someone capable of improving young human beings. Or is there? Socrates is not sure, or at least does not offer any recommendation, but he wants to make Callias think about the issue, and then try for a cogent answer, which may well be much more complex than finding a trainer for horses.

Implicit to the Socratic query is the assumption that human beings–not unlike foals and calves – have their own proper virtue and excellence. In other words, the excellence aimed at in a horse–or an automobile, for that matter–is different from the virtue sought in human beings. It would be absurd to look for horselike excellence in man, or for human perfection in horses. Each entity has its own ideal perfection.

Such an ideal excellence is potentially in various beings and it has to be brought out by someone who has the knowledge and experience to do it. It may be a relatively simple and established practice when animals are concerned, but when human beings come into the picture, the issue becomes much more difficult. Socrates does not tell us the answer, but he expects to provoke Callias into an inquiry on this subject. Alas, Callias is a simple-minded fellow and the Socratic question does not puzzle him. Indeed, he has an instant answer: It is Evenus from Paros who is the perfector of human virtue, the fashionable educator. Socrates hears the answer, but retains his doubts. The problem of the good education has no such simple instant answers.[5]

In our own progressive age, we have also ready-made answers about how to solve the problems of education. Now it is not Evenus the Parian who offers the solution; the problems, to offer one answer, will be resolved, when “every classroom in America is linked to the Internet.” The enormous resources of information accessible through an electronic network will offer perfection and excellence to every individual child. Or will they?

The modern answer misses the central issue of education. It is not information that offers the key to perfection and excellence, whether intellectual or moral. It is the capacity of individual thinking and judgment that makes a human being in the positive sense of the word. To be sure, information is important; access to the great pool of facts must not be belittled. Yet, in the last resort, it is the judgment as to how facts are related, which facts are important, what is worth exploring and why, it is the judging and discriminating individual, who is the sovereign master of facts, that ought to be the aim of the educational effort. Just information, a flood of information, will be of little value to a person whose rational capacity is incapable of actively digesting it, and may be harmful if not guided by moral judgment.

Such manifestations as religious cults offering instant salvation, or despatching the believers into eternity; such social phenomena as acts of terror devastating lives and property are dramatic testimony to the lack of judgment in some marginal individuals. Complacency and acceptance of pat notions propagated by politicians, television stars, advertisers are characteristic of the silent majority. They, too, have an underdeveloped capacity for discrimination and judgment, even when they are computer-literate.

Socrates tries to explain to his judges how and why he has incurred resentment and enmity among the people of Athens, which explains why he has been accused of offence against the state. It all started when, in response to a query of a friend of his, he was declared the wisest of men by the oracle in Delphi. The response of Socrates was not to accept the divine pronouncement, but to question it and attempt to prove it wrong.[6]

The reaction is characteristic. With all due respect to the divine statement, Socrates regards not piety, but search of truth, as the supreme imperative of man. Such a search is open to man, if he employs clarity of thought and logical reasoning. It is only reason, and rational thinking, that is the absolute authority to which, apparently, both man and God must submit. In this respect, man may argue with God, just as in the Hebrew tradition man can argue with the Lord about what is morally right, as Abraham did in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah.[7] While Abraham saw Right as binding on God and man, Socrates regarded Truth as ruling over man and God.

Such a way of looking at Truth, at the quest of Truth, at the rational pursuit, and its corollary of knowledge and wisdom, may or may not be shared by modern man. Yet, it deserves respect, and it is followed by some segments of modern humanity, especially among scientists and academicians.

The manner of challenging the oracle by Socrates displays a basic scientific, indeed common-sense, approach. Find someone wiser than he, and the statement is refuted. Sensibly, Socrates looks for the wise man in circles which are in high public standing. First he looks for him among the politicians. Alas, when examining a politician–evidently, through a dialogue in which Socrates insisted on clarity of concepts and consistency in thinking, as we know from various dialogues–he reaches a disappointing conclusion: “I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and still wiser by himself.” The politician resented the examination and the exposure (for the discussion was attended by others), and turned into an enemy of Socrates. As to Socrates, he arrives at the conclusion that the politician is no more than a windbag. He talks much, but says little. He makes pompous statements which do not stand up to a cogent scrutiny.

The Socratic exploration and conclusion strikes a resonant chord in our own time and place. Alas, we have no opportunity to examine the wisdom and the knowledge of people in public office; only some television interviewers can occasionally do it, and they are rarely the disciples of Socrates or made of the Socratic ilk. Press conferences are no better. There the President responds to a volley of questions, but cannot engage in a dialogue focused on a clear central issue. In political campaigns, the candidates for office–even if they are intelligent and perhaps even wise–try to cut the figure of mediocre people, if not outright nonentities, in order to “connect” to the common people, or their notion of the average citizen. If they are wise, wiser than their precursors in the Athenian democracy, they do their best to hide their wisdom, and do it rather successfully.

Despairing of the politicians, Socrates looks for wise men among the poets, men in high repute in the Athenian society. Trying to make them explain their own poems, he finds that others can do it better, and reaches the conclusion that poetry is the outcome of genius and inspiration, and not of knowledge and wisdom–which need not detract from the importance of poetic creation. Yet, the poets, on the strength of their poetry, “believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things,” which they were not. Thus, they too failed the test of wisdom.

In modern America poets and writers do not enjoy the high public esteem of their Athenian precursors. There are other people in high repute whom the Muses favor: producers and performers of public entertainment, from Hollywood “blockbusters” to television “sitcoms,” and assorted crooners. They get public accolade, as well as enormous remuneration, which increases the public admiration even more. With such an image, which is also reflected in self-assurance, they sometimes pass judgments on political issues, and sometimes lend their names to commercial advertising–in both cases commenting on things on which their successful profession has no bearing.

Another group of popular entertainers are professional sportsmen, who are dexterous in handling one kind of ball or another. As they also earn enormous amounts of money, they may be considered as a source of inspiration and wisdom–at least, by wide segments of the population. While, mercifully, they do not pontificate on public issues, their authority is accepted in recommending various commodities–from medication to dresses, from shoes to automobiles. Thus, implicitly, they pass for being knowledgeable and wise in matters outside their excellence–which would have made them unwise if they claimed such competence, but clearly makes the eager recipients of their advice foolish. No wisdom here either.

Socrates did find knowledge among the artisans, and we may extend this finding to the modern men of science and other professions. These people have positive knowledge and professional competence. Only that here, too, the competency and the success in their respective fields often make them pass judgment in other “high matters,” where they have little or no knowledge. For a scientist, qua ascientist, outside the field of his expertise is no more qualified to pass a judgment on matters of politics, education, public morality, than any other mortal.

Thus, Socrates reaches the conclusion that he is better off than all these, for, while knowing nothing, he knows that he knows nothing. Oida hoti ouk oida. I know that I do not know. The oracle, in the Socratic interpretation, did not make him wise, but used him as an illustration, saying, “He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing.”

This, clearly, is a lesson in humility, which may be not altogether out of place in our times. True, human knowledge has advanced enormously over the last centuries, especially in science and its application in technology. Yet, is man wiser? Have we resolved problems of human relations, of international strife, of personal malaise, of all kinds of misery, whether man-made or natural? With all the advancement, there is a long way to go. With all the light, there remain dark spots, even black holes. Overall, human knowledge and the wisdom it offers is worth much, but not as much as most people choose to believe.

That Athenians resented the avocation of Socrates is quite obvious. He hurt the amour propre of too many individuals, especially among the respected and the successful, and thus influential, people. The resentment may well have built up over years, and led to the trumped up charges against Socrates and to the trial and conviction. The voice of one man against the opinion of the many would not be tolerated.

Socrates himself was aware of the enmity he aroused. Indeed, he was conscious of the limitations of a single man in taking a stand against the opinion of the overwhelming majority, even if he was right and they were wrong. In his own words: “No man who goes to war with you or any other multitude … will save his life; he who will fight for the right … must have a private station and not a public one.”[8]

The Athenian democracy was basically intolerant. Though people could exercise freedom of speech, if they incurred the wrath of the public, if they offended the prevailing sentiment of the people, the retribution could come with a vengeance. This, as we know from history, was the case of various political leaders in Athens, where failure, whether due to their policy or even incidental to their political action, could lead to public disgrace and cruel punishment. Socrates, being aware of it, chose to have his say not through the political forum, but in a private, non-political, contact with his fellow-citizens. Even so, a point in time was reached when his distinctive, idiosyncratic manner and opinion were tolerated no more. And so he was brought to court, accused, found guilty and punished by death.

Is there a lesson for us here, too? In some ways, no. Modern democracy is less intolerant, and less bent on persecution and revenge than the Athenian prototype. If a man opposes the multitude, ignores the public sentiment, stands on principle as he sees it, while holding public office, the consequence is likely to be that he will not be re-elected to office. He is not likely to be pursued by judicial procedures, by concocted accusations. If he transgresses the law, he may well be punished in excess of his transgression, but if it is only his opinion and policy that fell into disgrace, he would merely forfeit his political career.

Outside the political sphere, a principled individual making his point of view known, and intent on reforming the community, need not encounter legal prosecution either. He may be ignored, isolated, ostracized, but he and his individual freedom will be preserved. He will not suffer martyrdom.

True, a critic of established, but iniquitous, practice, or a “whistle-blower,” may occasionally incur the displeasure of big business or established institutions. These may resort to means legal and non-legal, or even illegal, to discredit the accuser. He may be fired from his job, his character smeared, and persecuted in various ways. Yet, he is not doomed. He may defend his case, and occasionally vindicate himself, and even win in the uneven contest of power.

On balance, it would seem that the Socratic despair of the individual’s confrontation with society need not be shared in our own, more tolerant times. And yet, the lesson and the warning of the past are not entirely irrelevant. While modern democracy does not kill its prophets, does not make the outstanding individuals who oppose current ways into martyrs, it does not usually look at them with favor either. It may permit unorthodox opinions to be uttered, but it does not listen to them. The lonely fighter for the right and the true may not be persecuted, but he will be ignored. He may write, but has little chance of being published. And if he finds a niche in a public forum–usually in print rather than radio, let alone television–the forum will be marginal, cultivated by a few like-minded people, and ignored by the masses.

The prevalent vogue, the public fashion of the time, rules, and is averse to listen to anything but what is widely accepted at the time. It is difficult to be politically incorrect at times of political correctness, just as it may have been hard to demand political correctness in times when other notions prevailed. The social moods in our times may be as intolerant as they were in ancient Athens, even if society deals with recalcitrant individuals more gently, though, alas, not less effectively.

What was the aim of Socrates’s avocation? Why did he dedicate his life to his discussions with his fellow Athenians? Why was this charming hobby of his such a serious matter to him? The answer to these questions is given explicitly in the Apology.

Socrates sees it as a divine commandment, as a sacred mission, as an overriding duty, to make his fellow citizens, his fellow human beings, to do no less than reverse their life objectives, reassess their lives and commit themselves to a new manner of existence. He does not ask for a minor modification, for a modest contribution, for a slight re-orientation. He demands an inner revolution, a change of heart, a dramatic change of direction. In his own words: “Are you not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money and honour and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul?”[9]

In those days, as in these days, and probably throughout the history of the so-called “civilized world,” one prevalent aim of people is to amass money, to increase their material possessions. Many have done it to secure livelihood for themselves and their families, others have engaged in the pursuit beyond their actual or possible needs. The more money the better. Another objective, which may be less widespread but remains significant nonetheless, especially among people with means, is to get public acclaim. This is what drives many people into politics, though one can strive for recognition also in other spheres of social activity. As against these common objectives, Socrates points to the importance, the overriding importance, of the improvement of the soul–a somewhat mystifying and vague aim, one might think. Yet, on closer examination, the aim need not appear either mysterious or unclear.

For it can be argued that making money is taking care of the means of living, or good living. Working for public honor and esteem is a response to a social instinct, to a quest to be liked by others. Yet, what about a person’s inner self? What about one’s intrinsic worth? Is there not something in a human being which is worth cultivating for its own sake? Moreover, is not that inner self more important than either the public approval and accolade, or the means to material luxury? Socrates thought that the inner self was of primary significance, and he called it the soul. And he thought that men, in their chase for money and their race for honor, forget the importance of their souls, their inner selves, which, too, require cultivation and concern.

Still, the soul remains a rather vague and undefined thing. We speak of the soul as a spiritual substance, we link it to religious belief, we may even see it as being immortal. For Socrates the soul is essentially, or at least primarily, reason. The thinking, the rational capacity of man, is the center of his being, and as such requires and deserves attention and care.

What is the way of taking care of reason and developing it? This we learn from other Platonic dialogues, especially the early Socratic ones, though we get a glimpse of it also in the Apology. Reason is improved by right, correct, logical, sincere exploration of ideas, and by proper thinking. It is the key notions in our vocabulary–say, justice, virtue, holiness–which have to be explored and consistently defined. This is what Socrates aimed at in his dialogues with assorted Athenians. The purpose of the exercise may have been the improvement of the reasoning capacity; the closely linked consequence was moral consistency, personal honesty, which precludes cheating one’s own self, and which has social consequences and repercussions.

Is there a lesson here for our generation? The answer seems to be a definite “Yes.” How many people can define the meaning of justice, equity, democracy, in a way which assures the inner consistency of the term? Is it not easier to wave the banner of liberty than to explain what it actually means? Is it not simpler to declare the belief in one’s political party than to define its theoretical consistency, if there is such? Is it not more common to declare belief in education than explain what its aims are and how they are to be achieved? Some soulsearching, through strict reasoning, would do our reason good, would give us a sense of personal sincerity and honesty, and would have important social and public repercussions.

Yet, we may find that the Socratic perception of the soul as being mainly reason is too narrow, and the consequent training of the soul through logical thinking, important though it be, too restrictive. There are other dimensions to the human soul and other ways of gratifying it. Besides the world of intellect and its diverse pursuits, which can reach beyond the Socratic dialogue, there is the quest for beauty, there is curiosity about the world and the diversity of culture, there is the sense of moral commitment, there is the yearning for religion. There are many directions and avenues to guide the soul in search of its aims and in improving its excellence by doing so.

Thus, if the Socratic way for taking care of the soul may have been too narrow, his demand that we do take care of our inner self, and be not satisfied with the quest of riches and honor, remains relevant and even urgent now, as it was in his own time and place. The millionaire who neglects his own mind and soul, the politician who has no time and energy to cultivate his personal need for knowledge or beauty, the countless people who have not developed the art of contemplation, intellectual or artistic–all these stand reminded that, in their own interest, they had better address themselves to the improvement of their souls.

Reprinted with the gracious permission of the Modern Age (Spring 1999). 

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1. Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound. 443-483, trans. Philip Vellacott (New York, 1961). 34.
2. Apology, 17. The quotations from Apology follow the B. Jowett translation.
3. For a fuller picture of the arguments of the sophists and the rhetoricians and their rebuttal by Socrates, alias Plato, see such Platonic dialogues as Protagoras, Gorgias, Phaedrus. 4. Apology, 20.
5. For Platonic dialogues which explore the problem of education, see Meno and Protagoras, and, of course, The Republic.
6. The present section refers to Apology, 21-23.
7. See Genesis, Chapter 1817-33.
8. Apology, 31-32.
9. Apology, 29.

The featured image is “Alcibiades Being Taught by Socrates” (between 1776 and 1777) by Marcello Bacciarelli (1731–1818) and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. It has been brightened slightly for clarity.

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