In the Apology what did the oracle mean...?

In Plato's Apology the oracle said that no one was wiser then Socrates. And I understand that Socrates came to the conclusion that the oracle said this because he doesn't think he knows what he does not know. What does the oracle mean by saying that human wisdom is worth little or nothing? Does this mean that any knowledge that can possibly be known by men is extremely miniscule in the grand scheme of things?

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  • 9 years ago
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    In Plato's Apology the oracle said ...

    Right! Socrates recounted an oracle given by a "pythian priestess" at Delphi to his friend Chaerephon, who heard --- "No man is wiser than Socrates."

    And I understand that Socrates came to the conclusion that the oracle said this because he doesn't think he knows what he does not know.

    Partly. Socrates didn't understand the god's [Apollo's] "riddle" to Chaerephon, because he was:-

    SOCRATES: "... only too conscious that I have no claim to wisdom great or small. So what can he mean by asserting that I am the wisest man in the world? He cannot tell a lie; that would not be right for him." [Apology 21a]

    Socrates tried to find a counter-example to "No man is wiser than Socrates", by finding "Some man who is wiser than Socrates.", the logical contradiction of the oracle. Then he'd:

    SOCRATES: "...point(ing) out to my divine authority that 'You said I was the wisest of men, but here is a man who is wiser than I am." [Apology 21c].

    He thought he'd easily obtain a "counter" to "refute the oracle" [No man is wiser than Socrates] because the same GENERAL oracle, "written in stone at Delphi", had proved to Socrates, from his own experience and the Oracle, that he was NOT WISE --- stated at Apology, 21a. So Socrates' conclusion is in The Apology, but his thinking is in Plalo's "Phaedrus".

    SOCRATES:

    I can't as yet 'KNOW MYSELF' as the INSCRIPTION AT DELPHI enjoins ["Wisdom is to Know Theyself" KB] and so long as that ignorance remains, it seems to me ridiculous to inquire into extraneous matters. Consequently I don't bother about such things ... and direct my inquiries, as I have just said, rather to myself, to discover whether I really am a more complex creature and more puffed up with pride than Typhon, or a simpler, gentler being whom heaven has blessed with a more un-Typonic nature [Phaedrus 230a - 230b]

    Aristotle didn't think Socrates "syllogized"; but sought "universal definitions" in order to syllogize. But Socrates had a definition of Wisdom "enjoined" at Delphi [Wisdom is to know thyself.]. He also had the experience of NOT, yet, knowing himself--- which logically results in Socrates's conclusion of The Apology [I am conscious that I am not wise]. Like so:

    Every wise man is a self-knower [Wisdom is to know thyself; Delphi]

    Socrates is NOT a self-knower. [Socrates in the Phaedrus]

    Therefore Socrates is NOT wise. [Conclusion of Socrates in the Apology]

    Since the middle term [self knower] is the predicate of both major and minor premises, the above is what Aristotle called a valid "2nd-figure syllogism". So Socrates actually "syllogized" the conclusion which Plato noted in The Apology --- while "Socrates is not wise." [from the General Delphic Oracle] vs. "No man is wiser than Socrates." [personal oracle ] is a true paradox from the same "authority".

    So learning that he was "wiser" than a supposed "refuter" of the particular oracle (to the small extent that he did not think he knew what he did not know) was incidental to his quest to resolve a Delphic paradox. But the longer he continued, and the more people he encountered who, unlike him, thought they knew what they actually did not know, the more Socrates realized that neither side [wisest vs not wise] of a paradox might be refutable. So he tried to resolve it.

    Q. What does the oracle mean by saying that human wisdom is worth little or nothing?

    A. That was Socrates's attempt to resolve the paradox of being "the wisest" who is "not wise" --- according to the same "authority" [Delphi]. Quote:

    SOCRATES: But the truth of the matter gentlemen, is pretty certainly this, that real wisdom is the property of God, and this oracle is his way of telling us that human wisdom has little or no value. It SEEMS TO ME that he is not referring literally to Socrates, but has merely taken my name as an example, as if he would say to us, The wisest of you men is he who has realized, like Socrates, than in respect of WISDOM he is really worthless [23a - 23b]

    The above might be better-described as a Socratic interpretation of a Delphic paradox

    Q. Does this mean that any knowledge that can possibly be known by men is extremely miniscule in the grand scheme of things?

    A. You've switched from human WISDOM [worth little or nothing in comparison with God's] to human knowledge above. It probably is true and is similar to some of Socrates's theses. But the Delphic Oracle's meaning was, I think, more like:- Knowing yourself may be the most difficult thing to know, especially if, as Freud and Aristotle independently asserted (almost 20 centuries apart), along with Socrates [in Phaedrus], the psyche/mind may be a "means" for knowing things which are not "itself" better than it knows itself. Then "knowing thyself" or "thy mind" may be more difficult to do than to know other things or minds.

    Enjoyable questions. Good luck.

    Kevin

    Source(s): Plato's Apology and Phaedrus
  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    Yes. Your assessment is accurate.

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