Oedipus and Socrates on the Quest for Self-Knowledge

in Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought
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This article explores how Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Plato’s Apology of Socrates address the question of whether reason can ground the good human life. Sophocles’ tragedy and Plato’s dialogue both tell of the search for rational self-knowledge. Both Oedipus and Socrates are recognized for human wisdom and are presented as skeptical toward the gods. Yet, whereas Oedipus’ life ends in tragedy, Socrates’ life does not. Sophocles thus suggests that the rational search for truth must be limited by a pious respect for the gods. Plato, on the other hand, preserves Socrates’ belief that the ‘unexamined life is not worth living for a human being’. Four lines of inquiry into the causes of this divergence are then explored: 1) Socrates’ order of knowledge from particular to universal, 2) Oedipus’ proneness to anger, 3) Socrates’ private life in contrast to Oedipus’ public life and, 4) the differing status of the family.

Oedipus and Socrates on the Quest for Self-Knowledge

in Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

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References

6

See A. W. Saxonhouse‘The Tyranny of Reason in the World of the Polis’The American Political Science Review82/4 (1988) pp. 1262-63 1266.

9

See SaxonhouseFree Speech pp. 113-17.

10

See D. LeibowitzThe Ironic Defense of Socrates: Plato’s Apology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2010) pp. 64-65 M. Zuckert ‘Rationalism and Political Responsibility: Just Speech and Just Deed in the Clouds and the Apology of SocratesPolity 17/2 (1984) pp. 283-87 and L. Strauss ‘On Plato’s Apology of Socrates and Crito’ in Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1983) pp. 42 44.

11

See Zuckert‘Rationalism and Political Responsibility’ p. 285.

13

See Ahrensdorf‘The Limits of Political Rationalism’ pp. 779-81.

15

See P. L. Rudnytsky‘Oedipus and Anti-Oedipus’World Literature Today56/3 (1982) p. 463 and W. J. Miller ‘Universality in Sophocles Oediuis RexThe Classical Journal 24/3 (1928) pp. 214-16; but see H. Musurillo ‘Sunken Imagery in Sophocles’ Oedipus’ The American Journal of Philology 78/1 (1957) p. 42.

16

See Musurillo‘Sunken Imagery’ pp. 47-48.

17

But see Ahrensdorf‘The Limits of Political Rationalism’ p. 797.

18

But see M. L. McPherran‘Recognizing the Gods of Socrates’Apeiron: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science30/4 (1997) pp. 126-27.

19

See LeibowitzThe Ironic Defense of Socrates pp. 87 101 Baracchi ‘The ‘Inconceivable Happiness’ pp. 277-78 Saxonhouse Free Speech pp. 106-09 and Zuckert ‘Rationalism and Political Responsibility’ p. 384; but see L. Ward ‘The Relation Between Politics and Philosophy in Plato’s Apology of SocratesInternational Philosophical Quarterly 49/4 (2009) p. 504.

20

See Zuckert‘Rationalism and Political Responsibility’ p. 283; also see Howland ‘Plato’s Apology’ p. 532 and Saxonhouse Free Speech pp. 110-11; but also see Saxonhouse Free Speech p. 121 and McPherran ‘Recognizing the Gods’ p. 129.

21

But see Ahrensdorf‘The Limits of Political Rationalism’ p. 798.

22

Saxonhouse‘The Tyranny of Reason’ p. 1271.

23

But see LeibowitzThe Ironic Defense of Socrates pp. 169 171.

24

Also see Baracchi‘The ‘Inconceivable Happiness’ pp. 281-82.

25

See LeibowitzThe Ironic Defense of Socrates p. 80.

26

See C. H. ZuckertPlato’s Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues (Chicago: University of Chicago Press2009) p. 741 and Baracchi ‘The ‘Inconceivable Happiness’ pp. 279-80; but see Saxonhouse Free Speech p. 122.

27

L. Ward‘The Relation Between Politics and Philosophy’ p. 517.

28

Ward‘The Relation Between Politics and Philosophy’ pp. 503-05.

29

Ward‘The Relation Between Politics and Philosophy’ p. 503.

30

Ward‘The Relation Between Politics and Philosophy’ p. 502.

31

Ward‘The Relation Between Politics and Philosophy’ p. 506.

32

Also see Ward‘The Relation Between Politics and Philosophy’ pp. 507-08.

33

Ward‘The Relation Between Politics and Philosophy’ pp. 508-09.

34

Ward‘The Relation Between Politics and Philosophy’ pp. 507 509.

35

Ward‘The Relation Between Politics and Philosophy’ p. 509.

36

See Rudnytsky‘Oedipus’ p. 466 and Saxonhouse ‘The Tyranny of Reason’ pp. 1263-66 1267-68.; but see Ahrensdorf ‘The Limits of Political Rationalism’ p. 795 and R. D. Griffith ‘Oedipus Pharmakos? Alleged Scapegoating in Sophocles’ Oedipus the KingPhoenix 47/2 (1993) pp. 111-13.

37

See D. Willner‘The Oedipus complex, Antigone, and Electra: The Woman as Hero and Victim’American Anthropologist84/1 (1982) p. 69; but see Ahrensdorf ‘The Limits of Political Rationalism’ p. 794.

38

See Ward‘The Relation Between Politics and Philosophy’ p. 508.

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