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.
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 Socrates’ Polity 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.
See P. L. Rudnytsky‘Oedipus and Anti-Oedipus’World Literature Today56/3 (1982) p. 463 and W. J. Miller ‘Universality in Sophocles Oediuis Rex’ The 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.
See LeibowitzThe Ironic Defense of Socrates pp. 87 101Baracchi ‘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 Socrates’ International Philosophical Quarterly 49/4 (2009) p. 504.
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.
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.
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. 795and R. D. Griffith ‘Oedipus Pharmakos? Alleged Scapegoating in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King’ Phoenix 47/2 (1993) pp. 111-13.