SOCRATES AND THE (GOOD) CONSCIENCE
One of the most widely received views in modern assessment of Socrates' morality might be summarized by Leo Strauss' characterisation of him as 'conscience's greatest saint of all'. From Hegel through Nietzsche to Hannah Arendt and beyond Socrates has been considered as unorthodox in his moral and religious views, to the extent that in terms of traditional Greek (competitive) values he might be argued to have been guilty of 'not believing in the gods of the city', that is, in the traditional pantheon of Greek religion and to have promoted values that threatened to undermine traditional morality. This essay addresses the issue of how far and in what sense Socrates was a representative of moral conscience and how far he deviated from traditional values. The author first closely examines the textual evidence adduced for the thesis that Socrates' notorious 'daimonion' is a premonition of or a symbol for conscience and by exposing some modern assumptions behind the thesis argues that the daemonic sign is a superhuman agency of providence rather than that of conscience. The second part locates the workings of conscience in the story of the Delphic oracle in Plato's 'Apology' and argues that Socrates' puzzlement about the oracle derives from his unconditional compliance with the Delphic administration, 'know thyself'. This compliance and the general awareness of a moral and epistemic gap between the divine and humane is analogous to what we mean by 'good conscience' today. The lack of this awareness, on the other hand, entails a serious epistemic and moral deficiency Socrates as the living conscience of Athens is attempting to purge citizens of by his elenchtic activity.
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