Sunday Skeptic Link

Book Review:

The Afterlife of a Skeptic
How the execution of a philosopher
has been reinterpreted for every era

The book being reviewed is The Death of Socrates by Emily Wilson, about which the reviewer has mixed feelings, but the review itself neatly summarises the major philosophical fashions, from Xenophon and Plato to J.S.Mill and Nietzsche, in evaluating the life and especially the death of Socrates: a martyr to free speech, a gadfly who stung the rump of the status quo too often for the liking of the powerful, a provocateur testing the ideals of democracy through public dissent, a precursor of monotheism through his preference for following his “daimon” rather than the pagan gods, an essential role in a liberal democracy as the eccentric, an elitist rationalist who embodied a cultural sickness, and most banally faulted as a man who neglected his family for philosophy.

I’ve never read much about Socrates’ teachings, other than the general principles of the Socratic method and the skeptical approach. This review has inspired me to go and find out more. Any recommendations for good books on the Hemlock Man?

Categories: Culture, culture wars, history, Politics, skepticism

Tags: , , , ,

3 replies

  1. I f Stone’s The Trial of Socrates is a very good read. I have no idea how it’s regarded among those who know about these things, but whether you accept his thesis about the reason for Socrates’ condemnation by the democratic Athenians, it paints a convincing picture of how the gods were understood in Socrates’ times.

  2. Any of Plato’s tales of Socrates go down fine, I reckon. ‘The Republic’ is the most famous, and ‘The Trial of Socrates’ is obviously the most pertinent to this post. The latter is very moving, with appearances from a number of the famous figures at the time, including Xanthippe (Mrs Socrates!), and his disciples.
    For an alternate perspective on Socrates, you could go to Xenophon’s account of the trial, or even Aristophanes ‘The Clouds’, where Socrates appears as something of a natural – as opposed to ethical – philosopher (‘Rain is caused by God’s piddling through collanders!’) for comic effect, or Aristotle.

  3. I’ll second the recommendation of I.F. Stone’s “The Trial of Socrates” with the caveats that Stone was a journalist and not a classical scholar and any study of that period has to make do with relatively few primary sources.
    I’m not a classical scholar either but it seems to me that Stone did a very good job and his background in journalism was good training for the handling of historical sources.
    I’ll have to get it down from the bookshelf and reread it again.

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