Trusting the divine voice: socrates and his daimonion.
Brickhouse and Smith, McPherran, and Reeve all argue that it can, and in Part 1, I review their accounts, agreeing that their solutions save Socrates' rationality and that they fit with the textual evidence. However, I argue in Parts 2 and 3 that their solutions have two significant problems. First, because Socrates did not share our secular worldview, he probably did not believe that his obedience required that sort of justification. Second, their solutions do not do justice to the psychology of a religious experience. I note that the textual evidence permits several different accounts of the role of the daimonion, including, but not limited to, those already mentioned. Thus, if we are to adjudicate between these accounts, we have to look for evidence outside the text. In Part 4, I then argue that, based upon what we know about the nature of religious experiences and about ancient world views, a different account is more plausible: Socrates trusted the daimonion simply because he experienced it as divine. (7) I argue that such trust in the daimonion would have been rational given what Socrates' worldview likely was, assuming that he did not have strong conflicting evidence. Finally, in Part 5, I consider the objection that if Socrates simply obeyed a divine voice, he was irrational and perhaps even fanatical. Throughout this paper, 'Socrates' refers to the Socrates of the early Platonic dialogues.
1. The Standard Accounts
Reeve argues that Socrates' trust in the daimonion was rational because it was grounded in arguments; Socrates derived the authority of the daimonion and of divine commands in general through the elenchus. (8) Once he had established the general reliability of the gods, he did not need to justify obeying their individual commands. He could and did simply obey them. Reeve stresses that for Socrates, the authority of the gods was derivative. He obeyed the gods not because they were gods but because they were wise and thus knew better than he did (1989, 66).
Brickhouse and Smith (2005) argue that it was rational for Socrates to trust the daimonion because his trust was based upon empirical evidence. They use an analogy to explain how Socrates might have begun trusting the daimonion: Imagine a freedom fighter named Jeanne, who sometimes receives mysterious notes from an unknown source, telling her not to attack the city. Every time she gets such a note, she later finds out that the city was under especially heavy guard on these occasions. Before she learns to trust the mysterious notes, she ignores their advice on a few occasions, and things go badly. Under these circumstances, Brickhouse and Smith argue, it is rational for Jeanne to trust the notes and do what they tell her. They suggest that Socrates was in a similar situation. He had experienced the divine sign since childhood, and after following its advice, he thought about what he did and about what happened, and he concluded that it was right to do what the gods told him and that the gods were wise. Thus, Brickhouse and Smith argue, Socrates' trust in the daimonion was corroborated by empirical evidence and was consequently rational.
McPherran's account combines the two, arguing that Socrates was able to test the reliability of the sign both inductively and deductively (1996, 188-9). He tested it inductively because he had long experience of the sign and it never had been shown to be unreliable. On the contrary, obeying it had always had good results. He also tested it deductively: the gods are good and wise; the daimonion is a divine gift; therefore, it is reliable. In particular, as the gods are wiser than we are, their advice is more reliable than human predictions, including Socrates' own.
Because we have so little textual evidence about the daimonion, any account of why and how Socrates came to trust it will go beyond the texts. The above accounts do so by assuming that something about Socrates' trust must have changed. Either his trust was unfounded during childhood (because he had neither arguments nor sufficient empirical evidence) and later became well founded, or he did not trust the daimonion initially and began to do so as he accumulated evidence or arguments in its favor. Smith opts for the second possibility. (9) More importantly for my purposes here, all three accounts assume that Socrates thought he needed some sort of external justification (argument or empirical evidence) for his trust in the daimonion to be rational. I agree that it is desirable to provide an account which saves the rationality of Socrates' trust in the daimonion without denying that he actually trusted and obeyed the daimonion. I also agree that these accounts fit the available textual evidence and that they save Socrates' rationality. However, in the next two sections, I will argue that Socrates may not have believed that he needed an external justification of the type that they envision and that he may have been right about that.
2. First Objection to the Standard Accounts
Brickhouse and Smith, Reeve, and especially McPherran are generally highly sensitive to how different Socrates is from a modern secularist. They argue persuasively that Socrates' religion needs to be taken seriously and that this includes accepting that he believed in the daimonion, as well as in oracles, and in other forms of divination (but certainly not in all purported instances of divination). (10) They are also well aware of the danger of attributing views to Socrates that a man in Athens of his day could not possibly have held. Despite all their insights here, however, their discussions of Socrates' daimonion have a secular accent. (11) Notice that they assume that trust in the daimonion is irrational until proven otherwise. Indeed, McPherran as well as Brickhouse and Smith argue against Vlastos that Socrates was rational despite the fact that he was acting on the orders from something supernatural. (12)
Terms like 'supernatural' and 'superstitious' are symptoms of what worries me here. (13) Classic Greek did not have a corresponding word for 'supernatural'. This linguistic difference is important because it signals a difference in worldview. The term 'supernatural' implies a sharp division between nature and what is above it, between beings like us and beings that, because they are outside nature, are not subject to its laws. The contrast between the two opens the door to the naturalist blanket claim that nothing supernatural exists and that everything is subject to the laws of nature and can be explained scientifically. Today, we have largely walked through that particular door. Thus, once we label the daimonion as supernatural, it is much harder to argue that belief in a daimonion could possibly have any sort of intellectual credibility, and we assume that a rational person like Socrates, who believes in such things, must have an inductive or deductive justification for doing so. However, the Greeks generally did not divide the world in that way. (We do certainly get a distinction like this in Plato --assuming that he indeed held that infamous two-world view--but, Brickhouse, Smith, and McPherran follow Vlastos in attributing that distinction to Plato and not to the Socrates of the early dialogues.) Whatever existed was part of phusis, so phusis included the daimonion and the gods.
Unlike 'supernatural,' 'superstitious' does have a corresponding term in classic Greek: deisidaimonia (fear of daimons), which can be both positive ('god-fearing') and negative ('superstitious'). (14) In one of his character sketches, Theophrastus uses the term in the negative sense, making fun of the superstitious man who pays way too much attention to signs and omens. However, even if Socrates also considered certain acts and beliefs to be superstitious, we cannot assume that he would have agreed with us about which beliefs should be considered superstitions or that he (or Theophrastus) would have considered all reliance on signs to be superstitious. We all know that; however the strong negative and irrational charge of the words 'superstitious' and 'supernatural' tempts us to forget and so once Vlastos and others labeled obeying a supernatural daimonion as superstitious, it becomes very difficult to admit the possibility that a rational person like Socrates could possibly have obeyed a daimonion. However, as McPherran, Reeve, and Brickhouse and Smith well know, we need to admit that he very well might have.
In order to deny that Socrates acted irrationally in obeying the daimonion, these scholars all downplay the role played by his belief in the divine; he did not simply obey a daimonion, but he obeyed because he had cumulative empirical evidence or arguments proving that the daimonion was a trustworthy guide. (15) Their Socrates recognized that one should not obey a daimonion without good evidence that such obedience is warranted. Indeed, a 21st century secular philosopher who encountered a similar divine sign would want that sort of justification before trusting the daimonion. She would greet the encounter with great skepticism and wariness, asking a number of questions before she obeyed and especially before she concluded that the sign really had a divine source. Most of us probably believe that such skepticism and wariness would be appropriate (I certainly do). However, we believe that because of what else (we think) we know. More precisely, we tend to operate within a secular framework. (16) For a divine being to speak to a secularist, then, would be a shattering event because she would be encountering and hearing something that she had thought simply did not exist. Because having a self-contradictory worldview indeed is irrational, the experience would require her to either revise a central part of her worldview or to dismiss the experience as delusional. Unless she had overwhelming evidence in favor of the experience being veridical, dismissing it would seem to be the rational course of action.
On the other hand, if our 21st century philosopher had not been a secularist but had believed in a personal god, she would not have been as skeptical of the divine sign because her worldview would include the possibility and perhaps even likelihood that such a god might be speaking to her. The same would seem to hold true for Socrates. We are inclined to think that Socrates' reaction to the daimonion would have been skeptical initially because he was a philosopher and, therefore, had especially high epistemic standards. However, as already noted, Socrates did not operate with the sharp natural/supernatural distinction that makes trust in a daimonion seem especially suspect. There was just phusis, and it was full of gods and daemons. As all parties to this discussion recognize, he believed that they gave signs to humans that we then interpret through divination. The belief that one of these deities was communicating with him would have fit very well into his worldview. This does not, in itself, prove that he would take the experience to be veridical. However, it does suggest that he would be more inclined to trust divine voices than people with a different worldview would be, and thus, it sheds doubt on the view that Socrates must have felt that trusting the daimonion required especially stringent justification. It should also indicate that our sense that trust does require such justification is firmly rooted in a secular worldview which Socrates did not share.
3. Second Objection to the Standard Accounts
My second and related concern with the standard accounts is that they downplay the fact that Socrates takes himself to be receiving a divine sign. I am especially thinking of Brickhouse and Smith here. Their analogy with the freedom fighter Jeanne and the anonymous notes explicitly treats a divine message like a message from an unknown source. Clearly, it would be irrational for Jeanne to trust the notes without corroborating evidence. The analogy suggests that it would have been equally irrational for Socrates to trust the daimonion without such evidence. Insofar as he was rational, then, Socrates must have been looking for evidence in support of the daimonion's trustworthiness. However, to believe that this is how a religious man approached the daimonion is psychologically implausible. Unlike the source of Jeanne's notes, the daimonion was not a suspect something, whose reliability had to be tested; it was a divine sign. (17) When we believe that a god speaks to us, we generally do not wait for him to prove that he is trustworthy before trusting that he knows what is best for us; we simply trust him. This suggests (but does not prove) that Socrates' attitude to the daimonion would have been different than Jeanne's attitude to the anonymous notes.
Now, how do I know that divine messages are experienced differently than mysterious notes? I base this claim on reports from religions throughout the world about how people deal with divine messages or visions of gods. The normal reaction is not skepticism but awe. We have vast numbers of introspective accounts of such experiences throughout the ages, ranging from Krishna revealing himself to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita and St. Teresa of Avila's encounters with Christ through anonymous 19th century clergymen to contemporary poets and novelists like Anne Lamott. (18) I am referring to materials from outside ancient Greece here because, disappointingly, the ancient Greek material is limited. Most of its accounts of divine encounters are matter of fact reports and do not provide any introspective detail. Still, those few that include a phenomenological description do not depict a skeptical reaction. They, too, suggest feelings of awe, fear mixed with wonder. Knees buckle; the divine intimidates with its size and its beauty. (19)
The Homeric Hymn to Demeter describes how Demeter drops her oldwoman disguise:
The goddess ... changed her size and shape, throwing away her agedness, and beauty drifted all around her and a lovely fragrance from her perfumed veils spread about and a brightness from the immortal flesh of the goddess shone far away and her blond hair fell to her shoulders and the sturdy house was filled with light like lightening. She walked around rooms, while Metanira felt her knees buckling, after being speechless for a long time (2.275-83) (20)
Two accounts of encounters with Asklepios point in the same direction. The first account is by Isyllus (Spartan poet, around 300 BCE), who had a childhood encounter with the god. Asklepios appeared, 'shining in golden armour.' Isyllus writes:
The boy prayed, stretching forth his arms in suppliant fashion, and spoke as follows: 'I have no portion in your gifts Asklepios Paian, but have pity on me. (Inscriptionae Gracae 4 128.64-66; quoted in Garland 1992, 16)
A much later account of an encounter with Asclepius by Aristides, a priest of Asclepius (117-181 AD) stresses the ineffability of the experience:
It was like seeming to touch him, a kind of awareness that he was there in person; one was between sleep and waking, one wanted to open one's eyes, and yet was anxious lest he should withdraw too soon; one listened and heard things, sometimes as in a dream, sometimes as in waking life; one's hair stood on end; one cried, and felt happy; one's heart swelled, but not with vainglory. What human being could put that experience into words? But anyone who has been through it will share my knowledge and recognize that state of mind. (Orations 48.31; quoted in Dodds 1951, 113)
Faced with divinity, the ancient Greeks seem to have felt awe, not skepticism.
In a Christian context, we can assume that because God is good and wise, any communication from God would be true and helpful. If we are sure the sign is from God, obeying makes perfect sense. The situation in the ancient Greek context might seem to be quite different, given that the Homeric myths are full of lying gods. Based upon a reading of Homer, one might surmise that even an unusually naive Greek would distrust divine signs, realizing that the gods were a dishonest bunch and that signs from them often were intended to mislead and deceive. However, that was not so. The Greeks regarded the gods in poets like Homer as very different from the gods that they actually worshipped in ordinary life. (21) According to both Burkert and Mikalson, the Greeks were surprisingly accepting of the truth of signs from the gods and assumed that in divination, they learned the truth; the gods told them how things were. (22) This does not mean that they accepted oracles and other signs at face value. The signs from the gods needed to be interpreted, and it was hard to know that one had done so correctly, as many of the signs and oracles were ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations. The Greeks were also well aware of the possibility that people would forge divine signs. However, their skepticism seems to have concerned the correctness of a proposed interpretation and the authenticity of a purported sign, not the possibility that the gods were being deceptive.
Now, as Brickhouse and Smith, McPherran, and Reeve all agree, Socrates recognized the daimonion as a sign from a divine source. His experience of the daimonion was different from other Greeks' experience of the divine in significant ways. Unlike the people in the accounts above, Socrates did not see a god; he received a divine signal, a kind of voice (Ap. 31d, Phdr. 242c). Plato does not tell us what the experience was like, and some scholars argue that the sign was not even a voice but a mere sound. (23) As far as I can tell, we have no other sources from ancient Greece about an individual experiencing anything that seems similar, which suggests that Socrates' experience was unusual. (24) The view that there was something unusual about his experience is corroborated by the fact that Socrates' introducing new daimonia was one of the charges at his trial. (25) However, in a larger perspective, his experience was not unique at all. Like many others throughout history, Socrates experienced a god communicating with him, and like many of them, he experienced it as a voice or sound.
4. A Different Account
So what did Socrates make of this experience? There seem to be two basic possibilities here. (26) If I am right, Socrates' experience and his attitude to his sign were similar to that of others who believed themselves to have received a sign from the gods, and so he did not think that his trust in the daimonion needed to be underwritten by the evidence and arguments that the standard accounts assemble. Instead, like others who have communicated with god, he trusted the daimonion because he experienced it as divine. (27) Because the textual evidence is inconclusive, I have supported this account with evidence about the nature of religious experiences and about the 'supernatural' in ancient worldviews, arguing that my account provides a more plausible way of understanding Socrates, given that he was a religious man in the ancient world. However, my case is not conclusive. (28) It remains possible that the conventional view is right and that, despite his god-filled worldview, Socrates greeted the daemonic voice with skepticism, suspending judgment until he had tested it sufficiently. I am also not denying that Socrates had both empirical and rational evidence available to him, which supported his trust in the daimonion. The evidence I have presented suggests, however, that the standard accounts mislead by assuming that Socrates thought that he needed such evidence before trusting the daimonion. On my reading, this evidence is important to us, not to him.
If we do understand Socrates' experience of the daimonion in the way in which I have outlined, how should that affect our assessment of his rationality? Secular thinkers often write as though religious beliefs could be rational only if it is grounded in empirical evidence (that is, they accept evidentialism). If that were so and if we construed Socrates' trust as I suggest that we should, his trust in the daimonion would have to be irrational. I will not try to determine the merits of evidentialism here but simply note that several important contemporary thinkers in philosophy of religion reject it. I have in mind especially Reformed epistemologists like William Alston and Alvin Plantinga, both of whom argue that we do not need external evidence in order to justify accepting our religious experience as veridical. (29) Instead, Alston argues, we should understand religious experience as analogous to sense experience. Just as sense perception can result in justified beliefs about the objects we see, hear, and touch, so mystical perception of God can result in justified beliefs about God.
Similarly, John Hick argues that some people are directly aware of God in something like the way they are directly aware of sense objects and that this demand for an argument or external evidence seems unreasonable. (30) We do not believe in the existence of most other things (material objects, people) because of an argument, and we do not dismiss belief in their existence because an argument is lacking. Now, we all experience people and material objects, and we do not all experience the divine. Furthermore, most people's experience of material objects and people is obviously more compelling and real than their experience of the divine. Indeed, a lot of people, including many theists, do not have much of an experience of God, and they believe in God based on a vague feeling that something is out there or based on the authority of others. Perhaps that is irrational. However, that sort of experience is not an issue here. The biblical writers seem to have been as conscious of the presence of God as they were of the presence of members of their family or of the material world altogether. They did not believe in the reality of God as a result of arguments but rather because they lived with God as experienced reality everyday.
If I am right, Socrates' attitude to the sign was very much like that. Then, assuming that he was aware of no good reasons for doubting his experience, I see no good reason for him or other people in his situation and at his time not to consider this trust to be rational. My claim is not that their belief was true. It is entirely possible to believe something that is false for good reasons. I also am not arguing that the rest of us are rationally compelled to agree. The biblical writer and Socrates had direct access to their own experience. However, the rest of us only have their reports. We also have many centuries of science and an emerging field of neuroscience that may seem to present evidence undermining the likelihood that what people are experiencing are signs from daimonia and gods. Thus, we have radically different data from which to judge. Based on the evidence available to us, it may be more rational to discredit the report, even if it is more rational for the person himself to believe it.
As John Hick points out, it is not the belief itself that is rational or irrational but rather the holding of a particular belief by a particular person at a particular time. There are probably beliefs that cannot be rationally held by anybody ever (self-contradictory beliefs for instance). However, beliefs about Socrates' daimonion are not among them. What makes holding a belief rational is how the belief coheres with the person's world-view and with the evidence available to him. We know that Socrates was keenly aware of the importance of making sure that his beliefs were consistent with each other. (31) That, after all, is the fundamental principle of the elenchus. Thus, we can conclude that he did not see any contradictions in his own worldview and that he would have attempted to resolve any such contradictions that he discovered. Furthermore, we have no reason to think that Socrates had access to evidence that would have discredited the daimonion and thus no reason to think that he trusted it despite evidence to the contrary. Indeed, his commitment to philosophical dialogue and argument suggests that he would not persist in believing anything against overwhelming evidence and that his views about the daimonion and about the goodness and wisdom of the divine were at least, in principle, amenable to falsification. Thus, if obeying the daimonion had led to bad results over and over again, Socrates' trust in the daimonion would have been undermined.
5. Another Abraham?
Still, there is an aspect of Socrates' relationship with the daimonion that seems irrational. I accept the view of Brickhouse and Smith and McPherran that Socrates was willing to let the daimonion overrule his own judgment and to obey even when he did not understand the reasoning behind the command. If Socrates trusted the divine in this way, would he be inclined to obey even if he were given an immoral command? To introduce a term from some of the discussions of this issue, was he a religious fanatic? Vlastos expressed the problem vividly in correspondence with McPherran, Brickhouse, and Smith, arguing that if Socrates would simply obey the daimonion even in such situations, he would be indistinguishable from Kierkegaard's Abraham, a man willing to obey the command to sacrifice his own son (8/27/1989, 197). (32)
Scholars have tried to diffuse this worry by arguing that Socrates is nothing like Abraham. (Throughout this section, 'Abraham' refers to Kierkegaard's Abraham, a man obeying an unethical divine command.) Reeve argues that Socrates was obeying divine signs for 'elenchus-based ethical reasons' (1989, 71-72). Consequently, he was not 'Kierkegaard's Abraham. He [was] a man of philosophy, not of faith. A man who, as he [said], "[was] persuaded by nothing in me except the argument"' (ibid.). Because Socrates followed arguments rather than faith, he was different from Abraham who simply obeyed a command. However, as McPherran notes (1996, 208, n. 69), this solution is at odds with Reeve's own account of Socrates' relationship with the daimonion, which accepts that Socrates would obey the daimonion rather than his own reasoning.
Long suggests that what Socrates was doing is different in important ways from Abraham's readiness to sacrifice Isaac because in Socrates' case, the voice did not come 'out of the blue', but it was 'a customary voice in which Socrates had learned through experience to place complete authority and truth, and thus to comport with his own conception of divinity' (2006, 73). However, this will not do because the voice did not come out of the blue for Abraham either. On the contrary, Abraham had a long history of God appearing to him, speaking to him, and making promises to him. (33) Up to the point when God demanded the sacrifice, Abraham had good reasons for trusting God and indeed for believing that he was favored by God. Thus, the differences between Socrates and Abraham have to be found elsewhere.
Van Riel discusses the problem in terms of religious fanaticism. He argues that Socrates can be distinguished from the fanatic because of his 'recognition of his ultimate uncertainty' (2005, 40). Fanaticism does, indeed, seem to require an unquestioning certainty, and we associate Socrates with seeking and questioning. However, while Socrates is uncertain in all sorts of ways, he is, as Van Riel recognizes, quite sure what the daimonion wants him to do, namely not to do x. His uncertainty simply concerns why. Van Riel also argues that Socrates was saved from fanaticism because he recognized his own inferiority to the divine (2005, 40). However, it is perfectly compatible with fanaticism to view oneself as weak compared to God. What characterizes the fanatic is that he views himself as privileged or strong compared to other people because he believes he has a direct line to the divine (through himself or through his leader) and is sure that he knows what God wants him to do. This seems to be exactly what Socrates was doing.
Still, there are important differences between Socrates and a religious fanatic. As McPherran notes, Socrates seems to have believed that we need to be very careful in going against received wisdom on moral matters (1996, 190). Indeed, what we know of him suggests that he considered it obligatory to examine such commands whenever possible (2005, 17). This desire to incorporate critical examination of divine commands seems very unlike a fanatic. However, in the end, as McPherran recognizes, this difference is less than it seems. Unlike Euthyphro's divination and Socrates' own dreams, the daimonion was in charge. Socrates seems to have believed that he should obey it immediately, even if it went against both convention and his own reason (1996, 207). A second difference, as both Van Riel and McPherran note, is that the daimonion only stops actions; he does not urge actions. Thus, unless the daimonion changed, Socrates could at most have been a religious fanatic who refrained from doing certain things. He would not tie children to altars. Still, this softens the problem but does not solve it. In general, he would not have done bad things because of the daimonion's commands. However, he would have refrained from undoing or resisting them. He would also have refrained from doing good and necessary things, like untying children from altars. (34)
What seems to me to be the most important difference between Socrates and the fanatic has received little attention, perhaps because it is too obvious: Socrates was radically different from a fanatic because, as far as we know, he never did anything that could be described as fanatical. Unlike Abraham, Socrates and his trust in the daimonion were never tested by a command that directly contradicted his sense of right and wrong. (35) The daimonion told him not to leave the river or the gymnasium, it kept him from taking back certain students, and it told him to stay out of politics. Socrates may have thought that he should go into politics and that he had good reasons for doing so. Still, we have no reason to think that he thought staying out would be bad and despicable. The actions (inactions) that result from the daimonion's intervention are those of a perfectly reasonable and decent man.
What would have happened if Socrates had been tested by a clearly unethical command from his daimonion? That is, was his belief that he should obey the daimonion falsifiable, or would he have continued to obey ifhe were convinced that the daimonion was forbidding him from doing something that he should do? The dilemma in the Euthyphro indicates that Socrates would choose what is right over what the daimonion told him to do. He obeys the gods because they are right, not because they are gods. Furthermore, as I noted in the previous section, it is likely that Socrates' trust in the daimonion would have been undermined if obedience to it repeatedly had bad results. However, we cannot escape the shadow of fanaticism this easily. Socrates would have disobeyed the daimonion only if he was sure that the gods were wrong and he was right or if he concluded that it could not be a divine sign after all, given the wrongness of its directions. Given his sense of his own ignorance in comparison to the gods, he may not have been certain enough of his judgment to do that, especially not the first time there was a conflict. So I do not know what he would have done in that situation. None of us do. Perhaps we should be grateful that Socrates never was tested in this way.
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(1) I am indebted to Clint Concoran, Michael Dink, Carl Levenson, Tim Mahoney, and especially to Brendan O'Sullivan for their many helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.
(2) The locus classicus for the daimonion is Apology 31c-e. Other relevant passages are Apology 40a-b, 41d; Euthyphro 3b, Euthydemus 272e-273a; Republic 496c; Theaetetus 151a; Phaedrus 242c-e; Theages 151a (most likely not by Plato); and Alcibiades I 103a-b, 105d-e, 124c-d (often deemed spurious).
(3) Accounts that suggests that Socrates is just being ironic are provided by Nehemas (1987, 305-306), Nussbaum (1985, 234), and Vlastos (1991, 283-285). Vlastos more frequently provides an interpretative account on which the sign is always open to multiple interpretations and thus poses no threat to Socrates' rationality (1991, 171). For Weiss, the sign simply makes Socrates pause and remember what he already knows he should do (1998 and, slightly revised, 2005).
(4) See for instance McPherran (1996, 190-208) and Brickhouse and Smith (2005). Although this paper focuses upon a particular area where I disagree with them, my large debt to all three should be apparent.
(5) See especially McPherran (1996).
6 I take this to represent the majority view among those who have published on this issue recently. See McPherran (1996, 188-189 and elsewhere), Brickhouse and Smith (2005, 50-55 and elsewhere), Reeve (1989, 69), Long (2006, 64), and Partridge (2008, 285-286). Vlastos did not accept this view, however (see 1991, 283, as well as the extensive correspondence between Brickhouse, Smith, McPherran, and him, reprinted in Smith and Woodruff 2000, 176-204), and neither does Weiss (2005, 88).
(7) My account is inspired by Bussanich and in particular by this claim: 'The new Socrates, though no longer the humanist some earlier scholars imagined, is still too much of a rationalist, that is to say, that Socrates' religious experiences, insofar as we can make them out, are too strictly circumscribed and limited by discursive rationality' (1999, 29-30). Bussanich applies this general view to the daimonion, arguing that Socrates does not 'aim to justify rationally communications from the gods' but rather 'seeks to understand the experiences which in themselves are self-authenticating and to explain them to others' (2006, 207). However, my account differs from that of Bussanich in several important ways. First, I do not believe that Socrates' experience of the daimonion is self-authenticating. The notion of self-authentication is notoriously problematic, and the claim that any religious experience is self-authenticating strikes me as much too strong (cf. Alston's criticism of the notion of self-authentication, 1991, 80). Second, Bussanich's broader argument that Socrates (and not just Plato) is a mystic rather than a rationalist relies upon two controversial methodological assumptions. He believes that although we do need to distinguish between the philosophical views of Socrates in the early and in the later dialogues, we can draw upon the later dialogues for biographical details about Socrates. Thus, he makes significant use of texts like the Symposium (1999, 30). Furthermore, because he accepts the authenticity of the Theages and Alcibiades I, he uses them to build his case (2006, 208-209; 2005, 57-60). This paper develops an argument for a truly religious Socrates. However, it does so without relying upon these two assumptions.
(8) '[B]ecause we know that the gods are good and virtuous, we know that whatever they command must itself be good and virtuous. Because we know that the demands of virtue override all others, we know that we must obey these commands' (1989, 66).
(9) 'In order to tell this story [that Socrates' trust in the daimonion is the product of reason], we have to imagine that Socrates at some point in his life did treat the daimonion with an agnosticism that eventually wore off as its dependability become even more evident. We have no particular reason for believing this, but none for disbelieving it either. It may even be that Socrates needed to learn through experience that the daimonion's signal meant "stop."... [A]s I said, I do not see the texts either supporting or disconfirming this scenario' (Correspondence, 8/26/1989, 194).
(10) Cf.Brickhouse and Smith 1994, 189-201; McPherran 1996, 175-246; Reeve 1989, 21-32, 62-73, and 2000, 33-37.
(11) Cf.Bussanich (1999, 29-30).
(12) Brickhouse and Smith write: 'Although we accept that Socrates regards the source of his "sign" as supernatural, we argue that Socrates' actual experience does not at all entail that he must be irrational in responding to its promptings as he does' (2005, 44). Similarly, McPherran indicates that Socrates' trust in the daimonion and in other messages from the divine sheds doubt upon his rationality: 'The commitment to reason testified to by [Crito 46b] thus seems very much in conflict with the presuppositions underlying Socrates' reliance on oracles, dreams, and the daimonion' (1996, 177). Consider also his (admittedly rhetorical) way of framing of the problem: 'When we turn to the epistemological aspects of Socrates' theology we encounter what appears to be a quite unreformed, unreflective--even embarrassingly superstitious --holdover from conventional Greek religion: Socrates, for all his rationalism, appears to give clear and uncritical credence to the alleged god-given messages found in dreams, divinations, and other such traditionally accepted incursions by divinity' (ibid., 175). Finally, Reeve also seems to accept this way of thinking, arguing that Socrates is a man of philosophy who obeys the oracle for elenchus-based reasons and not a man of faith like Kierkegaard's Abraham (1989, 73).
(13) Brickhouse and Smith speak of the sign as having a supernatural source (2005; 43, 44, 49, 58), as does McPherran (1996; 7, 176, 192, 194). McPherran also uses the term superstition/superstitious (1996, 175, 176; 2005, 14). My argument here follows Martin (2004) closely.
(14) Here too, I am following Martin (2004). Both Xenophon and Aristotle use the term in a positive sense.
(15) On Reeve's view, Socrates is not really obeying the oracle (or the daimonion) for religious reasons but rather for elenctically based ethical reasons (1989, 66). His 'belief in Apollo's trustworthiness and goodness is ... based on standing beliefs about the wisdom and virtue of the gods' (2000, 35). Brickhouse and Smith write: '[J]ust as Jeanne was able to make the relevant connection and then see it as relevant to her plans, by testing his experience against the evidence provided in other ways, Socrates comes to regard the daimonion as entirely reliable. In doing so he follows even the most demanding of empiricist principles' (2005, 61). McPherran argues that Socrates' trust in the daimonion is 'founded in part on its "secular" rational warrant' (1996, 202).
(16) Cf. Bussanich 1999.
(17) I am assuming, as do my interlocutors, that the daimonion is a sign from a god rather than an intermediate being like a daemon. McPherran: 'Daimonion ti ... is elliptically substantival, and so could refer to a divine creature, but the argument following shows that this is not intended by Socrates; rather, the "something divine" he refers to is the sign given by the god' (1996, 195 n48); Bussanich: the daimonion is itself the sign of Apollo (40b1)' (2006, 203); Reeve: '[the sign is] the voice of Apollo' (2000, 33). Brickhouse and Smith call the daimonion a command from the god (1994, 190).
(18) The clergyman account is in James (1902, 66-67), together with many others.
(19) I am following Garland (1992, 14-22) here and drawing upon sources that he identifies.
(20) Consider also how Odysseus describes his reaction to Nausikaa: 'I am at your knees, O queen. But are you mortal or goddess? .... I have never with these eyes seen anything like you neither man nor woman. Wonder (sebas) takes me as I look on you' (Odyssey 6.149-61, Lattimore translation). There are reasons to be cautious in using this passage as evidence. Odysseus, notoriously deceitful, probably does not believe Nausikaa really is a goddess, and the epics of Homer were fictional. Still, Odysseus' description may indicate how the poet thought people would react to the presence of the divine.
(21) In other words, the gods of cult and the gods of poets are different. For a discussion of this distinction, see Mikalson (2010, 2001, 1983). Cf.Burkert (1985, 246), Kearns (2004 and 1995), and Most (2003). It goes back at least to Varro (Roman scholar, 116-27 BC), and Mikalson argues that the Greeks articulated the distinction between gods of poets, cult, and philosophy in the 4th century B.C. It is used by Poseidonius (ca. 135 BCE to 51 BCE): 'Those who handed down to us reverence concerning the gods send it out for us through three forms, first that of nature, second that of myth, and third that which has taken its evidence from the nomoi. The one of nature is taught by the philosophers, that of myth by the poets, and that of nomoi is put together by each city' (Mikalson 2010b, 17, note 57).
(22) Cf. Burkert: Signs come from the gods, and through them, the gods give direction and guidance to man, even if in cryptic form. Precisely because there are no revealed scriptures, the signs become the preeminent form of contact with the higher world and a mainstay of piety. This is also the case among the Greeks: to doubt the arts of divination is to fall under suspicion of godlessness' (1985, 111). Also Mikalson: "The gods know all things and in sacrifices, omens, voices, and dreams they give forewarning to whomever they wish." In those few words Xenophon (Eq. Mag. 9.7-9) expresses the belief which resulted in numerous and varied practices of divination. There may have been some skepticism about the omniscience of the gods (Xenophon. Mem. 1.1.19, Symp. 4.47-49), but the belief that they gave to men signs concerning the future seems to have been almost unanimously accepted' (1983, 39). He continues: There appears in our sources no questioning of this belief that the gods know all things and in sacrifices, omens, voices, and dreams they give forewarnings to whomever they wish. The few reservations about divination concern dreams' (ibid., 40).
(23) Cf. Partridge 2008, 286-287.
(24) Socrates suggests that his experience was very rare (Republic 496c).
(25) Virtually all scholars take that to be a reference to the daimonion.
(26) Cf. Kraut (1995, 625).
(27) McPherran gestures in this direction. He writes: Naturally, since Socrates has arguably never failed to heed a daemonic warning he has no direct, experiential evidence of the unbeneficial consequences that would have obtained had he not heeded it. Thus, it would seem that he also finds good reasons to believe that he is warned away from unbeneficial consequences in virtue of an inference from the phenomenological fact that it is clearly a divine (thus benevolent) sign that warns him (2005, 18, emphasis added).
(28) Indeed, I do not believe that an argument on this topic can ever be conclusive--unless somebody discovers a previously unknown set of primary texts on Socrates' daimonion.
(29) Both have written extensively on this topic. See for instance Alston (1982 and 1991) and Plantinga (1983 and 2000).
(30) This paragraph summarizes Hick's argument (1971, 381-389).
(31) See Crito 46b-3, 48b-49e; Gorgias 481c-482c, 508b-509c; and Hippias Minor 372d-3, 376c. See also Brickhouse and Smith (2003) from which I have borrowed the list of passages.
(32) Vlastos continues: I am maintaining that this kind of thing is absolutely alien to the spirit of Socratic rationalism. If Socrates were to get such a message the first thing he would do would [be to] subject it to rational criticism allowing his elenctically establish moral beliefs to override the authority of the manifest content of a sign from the daimonion. So there would be no danger of his standing ready to slit his son's throat and roast him on a pious sacrificial pyre' (Correspondence, 8/27/1989, 197).
(33) God has already spoken to Abraham many times before the sacrifice. He tells him to leave his country and promises to bless him and make him the father of a great nation (Genesis 12.1); He promises to give him the land of Canaan (12.7); He shows him the land that his offspring will have (13.14-17); He tells Abraham not to be afraid because God is his shield and promises him many descendents who will be in servitude for years but then will emerge on top (15.1-16); He reaffirms the covenant and promises him a child (17.1 -21); He promises not to destroy Sodom and Gomorra if he can find 10 righteous people there (18.16-33).
(34) Cf. McPherran who concludes that there is left some "threat" from the extrarational: there can be a conflict "between Socrates' unconditional readiness to follow critical [secular] reason" and his commitment to obey divine injunctions' (McPherran 1996, 207; he is quoting from Vlastos 1991, 229).
(35) Cf. McPherran: Socrates simply appears never to have had to confront this sort of horrible Abrahamic choice (he may think the gods would never allow such a situation to arise); but given my previous remarks--and his choice to risk his own life anyway, at the behest of an extrarationally revealed command--I expect that the response would have been essentially the same as Abraham's. Nonetheless, his is not the outlook of the sort of religious extremist feared by some commentators ... He requires that the extrarational submit itself to the court of secular rationality' (1996, 208).
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|Publication:||APEIRON: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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