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A History of Philosophy in Epitome by Schwegler

To bring Xenophon's Memorabilia into disrepute


THE "GENIUS" [Greek: daimonion] OF SOCRATES.--Those traces of the old religious sentiment, which have been handed down to us from so many different sources, and are certainly not to be explained from a bare accommodation to the popular belief, on the part of the philosopher, and which distinguish him so decidedly from the Sophists, show how little Socrates is really to be regarded as an innovator in discipline and morals. He commends the art of divination, believes in dreams, sacrifices with all proper care, speaks of the gods, of their omniscience, omnipresence, goodness, and complete sufficiency in themselves, even with the greatest reverence, and, at the close of his defence, makes the most solemn asseveration of his belief in their existence. In keeping with his attaching himself in this way to the popular religion, his new principle, though in its results hostile to all external authority, nevertheless assumed the form of the popular belief in "Demonic" signs and symbols. These suggestions of the "Demon" are a knowledge, which is at the same time connected with unconsciousness. They occupy the middle ground between the bare external of the Greek oracle, and the purely internal of the spirit. That Socrates had the conception of a particular subject, a personal "Demon," or "Genius," is altogether improbable. Just as little can these "Demonic" signs, this inward oracle, whose voice Socrates professed to hear, be regarded after the modern acceptation, simply as the personification
of the conscience, or of the practical instinct, or of the individual tact. The first article in the form of accusation, which evidently refers to this very point, shows that Socrates did not speak barely metaphorically of this voice, to which he professed to owe his prophecies. And it was not solely in reference to those higher questions of decided importance, that Socrates had these suggestions, but rather and preeminently with respect to matters of mere accident and arbitrary choice, as for example, whether, and when, his friends should set out on a journey. It is no longer possible to explain the "Demon" or "Genius" of Socrates on psychological grounds; there may have been something of a magnetic character about it. It is possible that there may be some connection between this and the many other ecstatic or cataleptic states, which are related of Socrates in the Symposium of Plato.

5. THE SOURCES OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF SOCRATES.--Well known is the old controversy, whether the picture of Socrates, drawn by Xenophon or by Plato, is the most complete and true to history, and which of the two men is to be considered as the more reliable source for obtaining a knowledge of his philosophy. This question is being decided more and more in favor of Xenophon. Great pains has been taken in former as in later times, to bring Xenophon's Memorabilia into disrepute, as a shallow and insufficient source, because their plain, and any thing other than speculative contents, seemed to furnish no satisfactory ground for such a revolution in the world of mind as is attributed to Socrates, or for the splendor which invests his name in history, or for the character which Plato assigns him; because again the Memorabilia of Xenophon have especially an apologetic aim, and their defence does not relate so much to the philosopher as to the man; and finally, because they have been supposed to have the appearance of carrying the philosophical over into the unphilosophical style of the common understanding. A distinction has therefore been made between an exoteric and an esoteric Socrates, obtaining the first from Xenophon, the latter from Plato. But the preference of Plato to Xenophon has in the first place no historical right in its favor, since Xenophon appears as a proper historian and claims historical credibility, while Plato on the other hand never professes to be an historical narrator, save in a few passages, and will by no means have all the rest which he puts in the mouth of Socrates understood as his authentic expressions and discourse. There is, therefore, no historical reason for preferring the representation of Socrates which is given by Plato. In the second place, the under-valuation of Xenophon rests, for the most part, on the false notion, that Socrates had a proper philosophy, _i. e._ a speculative system, and on an unhistorical mistaking of the limits by which the philosophical character of Socrates was conditioned and restricted. There was no proper Socratic doctrine, but a Socratic life; and, just on this ground, are the different philosophical tendencies of his scholars to be explained.

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