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Socrates compares gifted young men to healthy seeds that are deprived of the proper climate and nutrition for growth. The best natures, he says, fare worse under poor environmental conditions than do inferior natures. The greater an individual's talents, the more susceptible he is to the influences of a bad education. Great crimes are committed by great minds.
Again, the fault lies not with philosophy. Socrates says that it lies within the values of an unjust society. In the public gathering places young people learn about the things of which their city approves and disapproves. And, naturally, they aspire to attain the honors bestowed on those who please the public. They adopt the values and practices of the city in order to acquire wealth and power. In the process they are diverted from seeking knowledge and are seduced into attending to appearances and opinion.
The perpetuation of false values, Socrates argues, is pervasive throughout society. No one group can be singled out for censure. The sophists merely teach young men the ways of succeeding in society-how to cater to public desires and how to flatter the collective ego. The poets and dramatists also seek public approval. Unfortunately, what the public wants and what it needs are two different things. The people are charmed by the appearances of beauty and have no interest in understanding beauty itself. Socrates concludes, "Philosophy, then, the love of wisdom, is impossible for the multitude."
Arrogance is another corrupting factor. The public adores handsome, intelligent young men. And it has great expectations for their eventual political success. This adoration, coupled with the pride of being well born in a great city, fills the souls of young men with "unbounded ambitious hopes" and causes them to be "haughty of mien and stuffed with empty pride and void of sense."
After being exposed to a wealth of corrupting influences, can gifted young men continue to love wisdom, to philosophize? They may pretend to seek knowledge, but in fact, Socrates says, they are, in a most cunning fashion, passing off opinion as truth and thereby bringing the greatest harm to society. The keenest minds are most susceptible to greatest corruption.
Can anyone be saved from society's corrupting influence? Can true philosophers emerge? Socrates uses himself as a case in point. He (and a few other good men) have been blessed with an incorruptible nature and with insight into the madness of the masses. The value of this blessing, however, is mixed: In the present society (Athens), the true philosopher is like "a man who has fallen among wild beasts." He is not only unable to benefit society, he is also likely to meet an untimely end at the hands of the savage horde. The best the philosopher can do is to withdraw from the political arena, keep quiet, and attempt to save his own soul.