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Everyone needs a Socrates!

Sententia Hodierna! (SHD) XXIII

I would like to thank Ancient Wisdom for sharing the following quotation by Kierkegaard, which has inspired today’s SC. (

So, what we really need is a new Socrates. There is such an important truth in this statement that I felt compelled to explore and share as part of today’s ‘Thought of the Day’. What does he mean? Kierkegaard starts by listing what other philosophers ‘think’ the world needs. He covers three areas:

· Politics

· Social order

· Religion

Now, I am no expert in Kierkegaard, but I should like to offer a reading that I think is in keeping with certain passages from Socrates.

In reaction to examples of these three that are either not working, wrong, or apt to cause conflict and be antagonistic, other thinkers have asserted that a fresh set of each is needed. However, one could argue that this would only perpetuate the problem. It would, indeed, be lovely if universally we could all get together and agree by consensus on how each should be. As that is highly implausible, the potential for conflict must always exist. There will always be differences. So, this is not the answer.

But why does Kierkegaard choose Socrates? I should like to consider a passage from the Apology, which may explain his choice, and, even if not, is certainly relevant to the matter under discussion.

I tried to persuade each of you to care for himself and his own perfection in goodness and wisdom rather than for any of his belongings, and for the state itself rather than for its interests…”

What Socrates is saying here is that caring for the kind of person one could be and thus for the nature of one’s city is not the same as caring for one’s ‘affairs’. By ‘affairs’ he means wealth, success, power. These are external goods, Socrates wanted his interlocutors to look more closely at their internal well-being, to question their accepted truths and enquire for themselves. It is all very well to blame religious, political, and social systems. In Socrates’ opinion, we had to look a little closer to home, a search that clearly made some rather uncomfortable.

What can we learn today? As we worry about our salaries, kids' grades, which car we have, status symbols, etc., perhaps we should ask whether we should be worrying about these so much. Is our preoccupation with ownership and appearance diverting us from thinking about what really makes life better?

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