Philosophy Colloquium: “Socratic (im)Piety”

Posted on 4/16/2012 9:04:58 AM

The Philosophy Department is pleased to announce that Michael Ivins will be giving a talk entitled “Socratic (im)Piety: Philosophy as a Way of Life” on Friday, April 20, 2012, at 3:30 p.m. in Eberly College, room 411.


Philosophy’s first tragedy was the conviction and execution of Socrates by the citizens of Athens. Plato famously recounts the trial and defense in his dialogue, Apology of Socrates. But, that defense is deeply ambiguous. Though Socrates is charged with impiety by not believing in the gods and for corrupting the youth, he never explicitly rebuts the former charge or even seeks to establish that he’s not an atheist. Rather, he aims to prove his own piety by appealing to the existence of his personal daimon (“divine voice”) and to a certain prophecy of the Delphic Oracle of Apollo, who is to have said: “no one is wiser than Socrates.” These accounts serve as evidence that the activity of questioning and interrogating politicians (and anyone in the city who naively considers themselves wise) is sanctioned by divine command of a god whom the city officially recognizes.

Socrates thus implicitly accuses the Athenians themselves of wishing to interfere with his divine mission. Athens therefore, ironically, demonstrates its own impiety by depriving its youth of the genuine improvement which only philosophy can provide, namely an education in true justice. Socrates’ attempt to vindicate his own way of living has the further important consequence of illustrating an unavoidable tension between how philosophy and society understand piety.