Oedipus and Socrates on the Quest for Self-Knowledge

In: Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought
Author: Ann Ward 1
View More View Less
  • 1 Campion College, University of Regina, 3737 Wascana Parkway, Regina, sk S4S 0A2, CANADA

Login via Institution

Purchase instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):

€25.00$30.00

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.

  • 6

    See A. W. Saxonhouse, ‘The Tyranny of Reason in the World of the Polis’, The American Political Science Review, 82/4 (1988), pp. 1262-63, 1266.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 9

    See Saxonhouse, Free Speech, pp. 113-17.

  • 10

    See D. Leibowitz, The Ironic Defense of Socrates: Plato’s Apology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 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.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 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 Today, 56/3 (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.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 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 Science, 30/4 (1997), pp. 126-27.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 19

    See Leibowitz, The 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 Socrates’, International Philosophical Quarterly, 49/4 (2009), p. 504.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 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.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 21

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

  • 22

    Saxonhouse, ‘The Tyranny of Reason’, p. 1271.

  • 23

    But see Leibowitz, The Ironic Defense of Socrates, pp. 169, 171.

  • 24

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

  • 25

    See Leibowitz, The Ironic Defense of Socrates, p. 80.

  • 26

    See C. H. Zuckert, Plato’s Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), p. 741, and Baracchi, ‘The ‘Inconceivable Happiness’, pp. 279-80; but see Saxonhouse, Free Speech, p. 122.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 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 King’, Phoenix, 47/2 (1993), pp. 111-13.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 37

    See D. Willner, ‘The Oedipus complex, Antigone, and Electra: The Woman as Hero and Victim’, American Anthropologist, 84/1 (1982), p. 69; but see Ahrensdorf, ‘The Limits of Political Rationalism’, p. 794.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 38

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

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 600 298 25
Full Text Views 329 43 6
PDF Downloads 67 28 6