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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: March 2011

6 - Socratic Religion


Socrates is acknowledged to have been a moral philosopher of the first order: the founder of virtue ethics and the chief exponent of the Socratic Method (the elenctic method of question-and-answer cross-examination). It is, however, also common to underplay the idea that he was very much a man of his own time in respect of the supernatural, assuming in his speech and thought the existence of gods vastly superior to ourselves in power and wisdom, and other such conventional Greek religious commitments. Of course, Socrates’ trial and execution on a charge of impiety further indicates that he did not insulate his religious beliefs from those many other novel ones he had arrived at philosophically. Rather, our texts indicate that Socrates understood his religious commitments to be integral to his philosophical mission of moral examination and rectification; conversely, he used the rationally derived convictions underlying that mission to reshape the religious conventions of his time in the service of establishing the new enterprise of philosophy. The direct legacy of that project is the rational theology of Plato, the Stoics, and others. That, in any case, is the overarching thesis of this chapter. My goal in what follows is to delineate and justify it by offering a sketch of the religious dimension of Socratic philosophy – one that illustrates the way that Socrates both challenged and renewed the religious conceptions of his time.