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Even if you write nothing down

You’ve probably heard of Socrates, whether as a result of the dialectic teaching method named after him, or the outsized influence he’s had on philosophers from Plato to present day, or possibly his pivotal role in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

bill and ted yelling "so-crates!"

Despite achieving such massive influence, by all accounts he was a relatively humble guy. He didn’t publish any writings, or have many possessions, and he was vocal about proclaiming his own ignorance every chance he got.

But if you know about him, you probably already know that this humility didn’t insulate him from criticism. He was famously put to death at age 71 for impiety and corrupting the minds of the youth.

Those accusations didn’t come out of nowhere. When he was just in his 40s, he was lampooned in a play by Aristophanes. The play characterizes Socrates as a thief and a fraud whose school is burned down by the angry father of a … *checks notes*… corrupted youth.

Criticism of Socrates continues long after his execution - writing in the late 1800s, Nietzsche considered his huge influence on Western philosophy to be a huge mistake. Twilight of Idols contains an entire chapter called “The Problem of Socrates” in which Nietzsche acknowledges the man to be a sage, but one who was ugly, possibly inbred, and who made “a tyrant out of reason,” replacing the false idols of Greek gods with the false idol of rationality.

Even now, over a hundred years since Nietzsche’s criticism, Socrates still catches a fair amount of flak. In a review of Plato’s account of the philosopher’s last days, Amazon user Tom Munro had this to say:

Socrates was a pompous windbag and … the citizens of Athens deserve a small award for putting and end to his tedious speeches … Despite his role as a traitor surely Socrates deserved death because of his life spent as a tedious bore.

Whatever you’re working on this week, please be circumspect. I don’t want to see you risk trial and execution by hemlock.

But please also be bold, because apparently - even if you never even publish - there’s no avoiding disapproval from the Nietzsches and Tom Munros of the world.

    © 2024 Brian David Hall