Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/351

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335
SOCRATES

the Three Thousand. It was in the hope of realizing the aspirations of the moderate party that Theramenes, its most prominent representative, allied himself, first with the Four Hundred, afterwards with the Thirty. In 411 the policy of Theramenes (q.v.) was temporarily successful, the Five Thousand superseding the Four Hundred. In 404 the Thirty outwitted him; for, though they acted upon his advice so far as to constitute the Three Thousand, they were careful to keep all real power in their own hands. But on both occasions the “polity”—for such, in the Aristotelian sense of the term, the constitution of 411-410 was, and the constitution of 404-403 professed to be—was insecurely based, so that it was not long before the “unmixed democracy” was restored. The programme of the “moderates”—which included (1) the limitation of the franchise, by the exclusion of those who were unable to provide themselves with the panoply of a hoplite and thus to render to the city substantial service, (2) the abolition of payment for the performance of political functions, and, as it would seem, (3) the disuse of the lot in the election of magistrates—found especial favour with the intellectual class. Thus Alcibiades was amongst its promoters, and Thucydides commends the constitution established after the fall of the Four Hundred as the best which in his time Athens had enjoyed. Now it is expressly stated that Socrates disliked election by lot; it is certain that, regarding paid educational service as a species of prostitution, he would account paid political service not a whit less odious; and the stress laid by the accuser upon the Homeric quotation (Iliad ii. 188-202)—which ends with the lines δαιμόνι’, ἀτρέμας ἧσο, καὶ ἅλλων μῦθον ἅκουε οἳ σέο φέρτεροί εἰσι ⋅ σὺ δ’ ἀπτόλεμος καὶ ἄναλκις, οὔτε ποτ’ ἐν πολέμῳ ἐναρίθμιος οὔτ’ ἐνὶ βουλῇ—intelligible if we may suppose that Socrates, like Theramenes, wished to restrict the franchise to those who were rich enough to serve as hoplites at their own expense. Thus, as might have been anticipated, Socrates was a “moderate,” and the treatment which he received from both the extreme parties suggests—even if with Grote we reject the story told by Diodorus (xiv. 5), how, when Theramenes was dragged from the altar, Socrates attempted a rescue—that his sympathy with the moderate party was pronounced and notorious. Even in the moment of democratic triumph the “moderates” made themselves heard, Phormisius proposing that those alone should exercise the franchise who possessed land in Attica; and it is reasonable to suppose that their position was stronger in 399 than in 403. These considerations seem to indicate an easy explanation of the indictment of Socrates by the democratic politicians. It was a blow struck at the “moderates,” Socrates being singled out for attack because, though not a professional politician, he was the very type of the malcontent party, and had done much, probably more than any man living, to make and to foster views which, if not in the strict sense of the term oligarchical, were confessedly hostile to the “unmixed democracy.” His eccentricity and heterodoxy, as well as the personal animosities which he had provoked, doubtless contributed, as his accusers had foreseen, to bring about the conviction; but, in the judgment of the present writer, it was the fear of what may be called “philosophical radicalism” which prompted the action of Meletus, Anytus and Lycon. The result did not disappoint their expectations. The friends of Socrates abandoned the struggle and retired into exile; and, when they returned to Athens, the most prominent of them, Plato, was careful to confine himself to theory, and to announce in emphatic terms his withdrawal from the practical politics of his native city.

Method and Doctrine.—Socrates was not a “philosopher,” nor yet a “teacher,” but rather an “educator,” having for his function “to rouse, persuade and rebuke” (Plato, Apology, 30 E). Hence, in examining his life's work it is proper to ask, not What was his philosophy? but What was his theory, and what was his practice, of education? It is true that he was brought to his theory of education by the study of previous philosophies, and that his practice led to the Platonic revival; but to attribute to him philosophy, except in that loose sense in which philosophy is ascribed to one who, denying the existence of such a thing, can give an account of his disbelief, is misleading and even erroneous.

Socrates's theory of education had for its basis a profound and consistent scepticism; that is to say, he not only rejected the conflicting theories of the physicists—ofScepticism. whom “some conceived existence as a unity, others as a plurality; some affirmed perpetual motion, others perpetual rest; some declared becoming and perishing to be universal, others altogether denied such things”—but also condemned, as a futile attempt to transcend the limitations of human intelligence, their φιλοσοφία, their “pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.” Unconsciously, or more probably consciously, Socrates rested his scepticism upon the Protagorean doctrine that man is the measure of his own sensations and feelings; whence he inferred, not only that knowledge such as the philosophers had sought, certain knowledge of nature and its laws, was unattainable, but also that neither he nor any other person had authority to overbear the opinions of another, or power to convey instruction to one who had it not. Accordingly, whereas Protagoras and others, abandoning physical speculation and coming forward as teachers of culture, claimed for themselves in this new field power to instruct and authority to dogmatize, Socrates, unable to reconcile himself to this inconsistency, proceeded with the investigation of principles until he found a resting-place, a ποῦ στῶ, in the distinction between good and evil. While all opinions were equally true, of those opinions which were capable of being translated into act some, he conceived, were as working hypotheses more serviceable than others. It was here that the function of such a one as himself began. Though he had neither the right nor the power to force his opinions upon another, he might by a systematic interrogatory lead another to substitute a better opinion for a worse, just as a physician by appropriate remedies may enable his patient to substitute a healthy sense of taste for a morbid one. To administer such an interrogatory and thus to be the physician of souls was, Socrates thought, his divinely appointed duty; and, when he described himself as a “talker” or “converser,” he not only negatively distinguished himself from those who, whether philosophers or sophists, called themselves “teachers” (διδάσκαλοι), but also positively indicated the method of question and answer (διαλεκτική) which he consistently preferred and habitually practised.

That it was in this way that Socrates was brought to regard “dialectic,” “question and answer,” as the only admissible method of education is, in the opinion of the present writer,Dialectical Method. no matter of mere conjecture. In the review of theories of knowledge which has come down to us in Plato's Theaetetus mention is made (172 B) of certain “incomplete Protagoreans,” who held that, while all opinions are equally true, one opinion is better than another, and that the “wise man” is one who by his arguments causes good opinions to take the place of bad ones, thus reforming the soul of the individual or the laws of a state by a process similar to that of the physician or the farmer (166 D seq.); and these “incomplete Protagoreans” are identified with Socrates and the Socratics by their insistence (167 D) upon the characteristically Socratic distinction between disputation and dialectic, as well as by other familiar traits of Socratic converse. In fact, this passage becomes intelligible and significant if it is supposed to refer to the historical Socrates; and by teaching us to regard him as an “incomplete Protagorean” it supplies the link which connects his philosophical scepticism with his dialectical theory of education. It is no doubt possible that Socrates was unaware of the closeness of his relationship to Protagoras; but the fact, once stated, hardly admits of question.

In the application of the “dialectical” or “maieutic” method two processes are distinguishable—the destructive process, by which the worse opinion was eradicated,Its two Processes. and the constructive process, by which the better opinion was induced. In general it was not mere “ignorance” with which Socrates had to contend, but “ignorance mistaking itself for knowledge” or “false conceit of wisdom”—a more stubborn and a more formidable foe, who, safe so long as he remained in his intrenchments, must be drawn from them, circumvented, and surprised. Accordingly, taking his departure from some apparently remote principle or proposition to which the respondent yielded a ready assent, Socrates would draw from it an unexpected but undeniable consequence which was plainly inconsistent with the opinion impugned. In this way he brought his interlocutor to pass judgment upon himself, and reduced him to a state of “doubt” or “perplexity” (ἀπορία). “Before I ever met you,” says Meno in the dialogue which Plato called by his name (79 E), “I was told that you spent your time in doubting and leading others to doubt; and it is a fact that your witcheries and spells have brought me to that condition; you are like the torpedo: as it benumbs any one who approaches and touches it, so do you. For myself, my soul and my tongue are benumbed, so that I have no answer to give you.” Even if, as often happened, the respondent, baffled and disgusted by the ἔλεγχος or destructive process, at this point withdrew from the inquiry, he had, in Socrates's judgment, gained something; for, whereas formerly, being ignorant, he had supposed himself to have knowledge, now, being ignorant, he was in some sort conscious of his ignorance, and accordingly would be for the future more circumspect in action. If, however, having been thus convinced of ignorance,